by Sharon O’Brien
Early afternoon at Café Fatoush in The Healing Center on St. Claude. This is a Turkish coffee shop/restaurant with an air of the mildly exotic about it. It is a good place to meet because it’s usually quiet. Even on weekends when it’s packed with chess players hovering over chess boards, it’s quiet.
Another woman mistakes me for the person she’s meeting with that day.
When Maya Taylor enters, you know without having to ask that it’s Maya, rehearsal director and resident choreographer extraordinaire for the Marigny Opera Ballet.
BEGINNING SEASON THREE
After four months off, Taylor is charged and ready to get started. “It’s really beautiful season – there’s something for everyone to come and see. And something for all the dancers, too.“ She’s spent months pouring over videos of dance hall footage from the twenties and thirties. Envisioning how composer Tucker Fuller will transmute Tin Pan Alley ditties and other music of the period into the score for Giselle Desponds, a full length contemporary ballet that world premieres at Marigny Opera House on November 17.
Her process involves listening to the music over and over, setting aside time to parse the score and get the structure down. Taylor’s been working with Executive Director David Hurlbert’s scenario and Fuller for some time now, but she’s clearly eager to begin working with her dancers.
The Marigny Opera Ballet Company of eight dancers includes several members from last season as well as newcomers. “They’re super talented, hardworking, and open to anything I throw at them during our rehearsals.”
Dancers spend an hour five days a week in class, followed by three hours of rehearsal. Learning each other as well as the dance. In addition to being classically trained in ballet, the dancers are fluent in modern, jazz, and improvisation. They will be learning and playing with the Charleston and Black Bottom for the dance hall scene.
While Balanchine famously compared dancers to instruments that the choreographer plays, Taylor’s work tends to be more collaborative. She believes that the element of play is essential to training and rehearsing. Sometimes, even an incorrect dance move gets kept in because it works. With a story as dark as Giselle’s, there is room for laugher and light, especially in Act I where dancers are responding to music’s that’s very fast, powerful and dramatic.
THE RETURN OF ORFEO
While her own contemporary dance ensemble Maya Taylor Dance continues on a project basis, Taylor’s main focus is the Marigny Opera Ballet which she joined in 2014, creating such works as Selcouth Liaisons, Summer from The Four Seasons, and a group version of Under a Glass Bell.
In 2014, Marigny Opera Ballet commissioned Taylor to choreograph Orfeo, her first full-length contemporary ballet. Based on the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, reviewer Chris Waddington applauded “choreographer Maya Taylor’s ardent, articulate gloss on the oft-treated legend of doomed lovers.” Audiences agreed, responding with sold out houses.
When the decision was made to close the current season with a reprise of Orfeo, Taylor was delighted. With four dancers new to the ballet, she looks forward to tweaking the elements that will help make the ballet even stronger.
DANCING IN CHURCH
Writing in the Huffington Post, Hallie Sekof describes the use of location by contemporary choreographers in such a way that the space becomes as much a part of the performance as the bodies of the dancers. Indeed, by rejecting the confines of the concert stage choreographers like Taylor are disrupting conventional notions of performance and responding to the architecture and history of (in this case) an historic structure.
“The beautiful space at the Marigny is a major part of why I love working there,” Taylor acknowledges. “It is so beautiful, vast, and provides a lot of time to contemplate where I want to go with movement and with the dancers. I think everyone that steps into the space falls in love with it.”
“Collaborating with Dave and Tucker has also been a dream as they have a very clear vision and I am so thrilled to create the choreography to add to this original version of Giselle.”