“I’m lucky indeed to have worked with Sharon, Carolyn and Ruthie over a span of 21 years, from 1962 when Sharon joined my company, through 1983 when Ruthie retired. They’ve had an impact on our field far beyond the many roles they created and the exemplary influence they had on fellow company members. In an artform that—more than any other—relies on one generation to pass its knowledge on to the next in the most personal way, they have a knack for preparing young dancers to become the best artists they can be.”
Over the years, hundreds of American Dance Festival students, guided by Adams, Andrien and Kinney, have transcended themselves to meet the demands of such Taylor classics as Aureole and Esplanade. In tribute to their collective “zunch” and lifelong dedication to their chosen path, this summer ADF awarded these three artists the 2009 Balasaraswati/Joy Ann Dewey Beinecke Endowed Chair for Distinguished Teaching. “Their collective contributions and shared dedications have helped shape a generation of modern dancers,” says ADF Dean Donna Faye Burchfield.
“How interesting that these three marvelous teachers came out of Taylor’s company,” says ADF Director Charles Reinhart. Taylor didn’t particularly like to teach and avoided it when possible, according to Reinhart, who managed the Taylor company, 1962–72. About the women, Reinhart says, “All three have that inner light which comes across in both their teaching and performing.” He notes that today’s dancers, in cultivating an independent career, often look for a teacher with whom they have a special affinity, or a teacher who has specialized information, rather than devoting themselves to a particular style or technique. “In teaching,” he says, “that inner light is more essential than ever.”
Carolyn Adams performed with the Taylor Company for 17 years (1965–1982), becoming one of the dancers most strongly identified with the Taylor repertory. Some of the memorable roles that Taylor created on her: the fleet-footed, running solo in Esplanade; the Little Girl in the terrifying Big Bertha; and the mysterious solo in Runes. Sharon Kinney remembers: “Carolyn had a unique combination of qualities. She was petite and appealing, and at the same time elegant, a princess. When she entered, it was like royalty coming onstage.”
Reinhart remembers Adams’ audition: “Her delightful spirit infected the room,” he says. “When the audition was over, Paul immediately invited her to join the company. ‘I can’t,’ she said, ‘I have to finish college.’ So Paul waited for her to graduate from Sarah Lawrence, and a year later she joined the company.”
Soon after she joined Taylor, Adams and her sister Julie opened a dance school in Harlem. They produced musicals that became popular neighborhood events. Children, parents, Broadway dancers, friends and Taylor dancers all took part, reaffirming Adams’ belief in the arts as a community activity. On the faculty at Juilliard since 1983, Adams likens teaching to parenting. “You never really know your impact,” she says. To her students she says, “My job is to teach you everything I know, in the hope that you will go on to do something I never saw or dreamed of.”
Concerned that dance is the only art that doesn’t provide ongoing access to its masterpieces in the public domain, she co-founded the American Dance Legacy Institute. Now sponsored by Brown University and funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Institute documents and preserves works by important modern choreographers. Dance “études” based on material from such repertory classics as Donald McKayle’s Rainbow ’Round My Shoulder or Anna Sokolow’s Rooms are available, with a teacher/director, for study or performance.
In 2002, Adams and her husband Robert Kahn (also a Taylor alum) adopted two half-sibling children, then 9 and 13, from Azerbaijan. The children spoke no English, and the new parents were unprepared for the gaping cultural abyss between them and the children. Three years ago Adams earned a masters in social work from Fordham University. “I undertook this degree because I wanted to better understand the dynamics of the complicated family we had suddenly become.” (As this article was being written, Adams was organizing a wedding for her now 21-year-old daughter.)
Ruth Andrien, who danced with the Taylor Company, 1974–83, is one of the premier restagers of Mr. Taylor’s work for universities and dance companies around the world, among them the Paris Opéra Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and in Tunisia for the State Department’s international exchange program. She currently directs The Paul Taylor Project at ADF. In 2007 she completed her MFA in Dance from Hollins University/ADF. “Working for Paul opened visions of other worlds, through the mystery of his phenomenal dances. When I began to teach, I found that these visions were transferable. Paul also challenged and cared for me as an artist and as a person, so it was natural to pass this encouragement on to others.”
Leaving her husband at home in Pennsylvania, Andrien remembers being desperately homesick while on tour, and at the dress rehearsal for the premiere of Polaris, she kept bumping into the set. Finally, Taylor asked, “What is wrong with you?” At that point, she remembers, she buried her face in his shirt and blew her nose on his necktie. “I don’t think he minded that so much,” Andrien says, “because he knew that dance sometimes asks for more than anyone can give. We Taylor dancers were lucky enough to work for a choreographer who appreciated striving more than perfection.”
“I saw that dance could come from a love for enchantment,” she says. “I try to help students find that enchantment by connecting their inner lives to movement. I’m enjoying new opportunities for learning and growing as a teacher. I just finished a semester at Southern Methodist University, teaching technique and setting Cloven Kingdom on the students and, as usual, working with the kind of dreamers who find their way into this artform. My recent master’s degree from the Hollins/ADF program opened my eyes to new ways of thinking about dance and its contexts.”
Andrien says that the Taylor technique is hard to pin down. “The notes I usually give have to do with increasing volume, using a kind of body undertow, finding the stillness in focus, unleashing the need to move violently or wickedly or moving in partnership with space. But yeah, point your feet, too.”
Sharon Kinney began working with Taylor in 1962. She remembers the thrill of those early days in the studio when Taylor was investigating and developing his choreographic voice. During her four years with the company Taylor created major pieces of his repertory: Aureole, Scudorama, Piece Period, Party Mix and others. She values the teaching experience she gained, thanks to Taylor’s personal aversion to teaching. “Paul always said to us, ‘You teach your own class. Teach whatever interests you.’ He let us teach some of the repertory, and watched us to make sure we were on track,” she says. “I still have permission to teach some of his rep in my classes.”
Kinney says that the freedom Taylor gave them in teaching was liberating. “I didn’t want to be just one thing. I’ve lived like a gypsy, traveled the world, danced with other choreographers—Twyla Tharp, Dan Wagoner, Yuriko—collecting different experiences,” she says. “I want my students to experience that freedom, too. Finding modern dance when I was 14 years old allowed me to express my desire to be many things. I’m still hoping to dance in a movie musical!”
Kinney has taught at Juilliard, New York University, Ohio State University, Virginia Commonwealth University, California State University–Long Beach and the Paul Taylor Studio, among others. “I want to pass on the wisdom and inspiration given to me by my early teachers, Josephine Schwarz in Dayton, and Helen P. Alkire at Ohio State,” she says.
Reflecting on the 11 summers she taught at the American Dance Festival, she says, “As much as Paul Taylor influenced my life, so did ADF, by giving me the opportunity to test myself as a teacher and choreographer, to try out new ideas and teaching methods. I made my debut with the Taylor Company there, in Aureole.
In 1997 she moved to Los Angeles to be close to her two sons and their families, and to earn her MFA in choreography for dance and the camera from UCLA. She has choreographed more than 30 dances and three films (including Robert Altman’s Popeye). Currently, Kinney teaches composition at Cal State–Long Beach. This summer she directed the Paul Taylor Summer Intensive in New York City. “Being a former member of the company is a special honor,” says Kinney. “When I go back to see performances or visit the studio, the current dancers are always generous and loving to me. And admiring. They make me realize that I have a lot to offer younger dancers.”
Dancer/choreographer Linda Tarnay is a longtime faculty member at NYU Tisch School of the Arts.
Photo by Rachel Papo