“Benjamin told me a few times after I retired that if I wanted to dance with L.A. Dance Project, I could.” Our conversation starts off with great excitement. It is not every day that I have the privilege of listening to a success story in the dance world, one in particular that involves transferring skills from the creative field of dance into costume design and the re-staging of repertoire.
Skype needs updating, and I need to make sure I am ready for this interview. Install, reinstall and update all software, a quick test on the iPad and laptop assure me I am all set. Janie Taylor messages back and suddenly no sound, nada. I restarted my skype and luckily gained access to Jaine’s voice, but she still couldn’t hear my camp voice echoing in the empty chamber of my living room. Our conversation had an unusual speed, but I was delighted with Janie’s soothing and determined voice finally on my speaker.
Janie shares with me the adventures that took her from New York City Ballet to Los Angeles; an exciting transition from full-time ballet dancer to costume designer with choreographers such as Christopher Wheeldon and Benjamin Millepied, and the ongoing journey which brought her back on stage with L.A. Dance Project.
Ms Taylor retired in March 2014 after a far-reaching career as a soloist and principal dancer with the distinguished New York City Ballet. After which, she continues her involvement in ballet as a repetiteur – setting the ballets of Benjamin Millepied and Justin Peck (resident choreographer with New York City Ballet). In 2015, Ms Taylor performed with L.A. Dance Project for the opening of Cannes Film Festival, in a dance piece from Millepied. Two years later she says,” Benjamin choreographed a piece on him and me for the gala here in Los Angeles, and last December we did it again and at that point, I kind of decided to join the company and start dancing with them.”
Her husband also works with the L.A. Dance Project as a ballet master, and naturally, they spend a lot of time with the company. Ms Taylor announces, “I love this company and this amazing group of people.”
I am curious to understand the attachment a repetiteur can get to a choreographic work. Whether perhaps one can feel like an extension of the ballet when teaching it to other companies?
Ms Taylor admits that she “doesn’t feel like an extension of the ballet”, to my surprise. She adds that it’s interesting to teach a ballet because usually, one dances only one role per piece. However, in this case, learning every single role in the repertoire to accomplish the challenging and complex job of installing these choreographies on new dance companies and their dancers. She responds curiously revealing that “it’s an interesting way to explore a ballet that you are not usually able to do as a dancer, knowing each and everything single part of it”.
Dancing is evolving into other disciplines, allowing dance artists to expand their creative skills in new mediums. In this case, Ms Taylor has successfully transferred her curiosity for movement into costume design, creating clothes and dance garments. She declares “I have always made stuff for myself, sometimes I made leotards or things to wear in class. Sometimes I made real clothing.”
Work relationships at NYCB have earned Ms Taylor a new role as a designer, perhaps accidentally at the start. She says “Justin Peck had seen one of the leotards I made for class, and he thought it would be perfect for his next choreography. So he asked me if I could design something based on that for the next piece for NYCB. Even though I was just leaving the company, I came right back in to do this costume design for him.”
Costume design is an ongoing project with Ms Taylor, taking her across to the West Coast of the United States creating costumes for L. A. Dance Project, Joshua Beamish and Christopher Wheeldon. The excitement about Millepied’s dance company is nearly palpable if it wasn’t for technology breaking up our chat. Ms Taylor speaks dearly of the dancers: “L.A. Dance Project is an exciting company because we have dancers with a contemporary background, a lot of them from the Julliard School. We also have dancers with a very classical ballet training which enable us to do a lot of types of works, so we have some very contemporary pieces along with ballet in the program. Starting now, we have a little bit more ballet, some pieces on point.”
LADP is an eclectic company based in downtown Los Angeles creating dance works for the stage, screen and site-specific works. Recently, the company was performing a response to the installations by Donald Judd, Richard Long, Ilya Kabakov and Roni Horn – part of the Chinati collection a large scale outdoors contemporary art compilation in Marfa Texas – a heaven of contemporary art.
Interestingly, the company was performing in these beautiful grounds, inspired by the artists and their works to an audience worldwide, and not a local theatre audience. Ms Taylor adds, “we made a live broadcast, so we didn’t have a real audience in front of us, but our audience was anyone on the internet who wanted to tune into the broadcast. We don’t always follow the standard way of performing.”
In reinventing how one watches dance or ballet, LADP capitalizes on contemporary audiences that relish the form from different sides of the globe, online. In October, L.A Dance Project and Janie Taylor travel to Singapore. “We certainly hope the audiences love what we have to offer, I can only hope they have the same reaction I had when I first saw this company, I immediately felt in love with the dancers and the dances”.
L.A. Dance Project is coming to Singapore for da:ns festival in October, celebrating dance and its modern history through the mastery and finesse of Benjamin Millepied and Justin Peck’s choreography. Ms Taylor speaks with a warm heart about the company. “We are doing the Martha Graham duets, three wonderful short duets: White, Star and Moon which draw from her 1957 film A Dancer’s World, they are joyful and beautiful. We are also dancing Murder Ballades by Justin Peck, followed by Closer, a 17-minute duet by Millepied set to Philip Glass, and Hearts & Arrows one of my favourite pieces Benjamin has ever choreographed.”