Modern dance giant Taylor leaves 'immeasurable' legacy; ties to Berkshires date to 1954

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"Zunch."

Ask Beryl Jolly what stands out when she thinks of the late choreographer Paul Taylor and the word "zunch" comes immediately to mind.

Jolly is executive director of the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, where Taylor's company performed at the venue's opening gala in September 2005. The company returned to the Mahaiwe in 2008 and has performed there every year since.

Taylor, who died of renal failure Wednesday in New York at age 88, used "zunch" in a 1974 open letter to his dancers.

"Zunch is a word that is not in any dictionary," he wrote. "In Spain, they call it 'duende.' It is related to the full generosity or passion."

It's that generosity and passion that strike Jolly most about Taylor's work.

"There is a beautiful context of humanity in his dance," the vacationing Jolly said in a phone interview. "His work covered a full range of human emotion. There was humor, complexity."

Taylor's history with the Berkshires dates to 1954, when he made his Jacob's Pillow debut as a dancer with Pearl Lang. He returned to the Pillow 10 years later with his own company, which has performed at the summer dance festival 17 times. The company's engagement last summer in the Pillow's Ted Shawn Theatre was its first at the dance festival since 2007.

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In an email, the Pillow's director, Pamela Tatge, said her introduction to dance was through Taylor's signature "Esplanade," which is why, she wrote, "his work will always be extremely special to me."

"[His] impact on the field of dance is immeasurable," Tatge wrote. "The gifts he has offered to many thousands of Jacob's Pillow audience members over the decades will always be with us."

"We celebrate his decades-long relationship to the Pillow," Jacob's Pillow director of preservation Norton Owen said in an email. "Our connections have been richly varied, multilayered, and deeply meaningful."

In a telephone conversation, Mahaiwe founder and board of directors member Lola Jaffe said she had been looking for something "exciting" and "really good" to open the Mahaiwe in 2005. She made contact with Taylor through her son, Walter, who was working in the arts in New York and was a member of the dance company's board.

"[Taylor] was a lovely, very quiet man with an extraordinary artistic sense," Jaffe said.

Jaffe said she is most impressed by the iconic choreographer's range of dance and use of music from classical to boogie-woogie. "He was unique for his time," Jaffe said, "and he had a strong influence on Broadway dance."

He never came up from New York to the Mahaiwe, Jaffe said, but "he loved the Mahaiwe and the concept. [His company's appearance here] was important for us to move forward."

Jolly said she has many audience members who come back each year to see the Taylor dancers. Many of them, she said, have seen the company at significantly larger venues and appreciate the intimacy of the 680-seat Mahaiwe.

"They've formed a personal connection with the dancers," Jolly said. "Every season is a new chapter in the story."


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