Kate Geis’ new documentary Paul Taylor: Creative Domain intimately examines the relationship between creative inspiration and creative execution, between dance choreographer and performer. Given unprecedented access to legendary modern choreographer Paul Taylor’s New York City dance studio, the film charts the inception, development, and premiere performance of “Three Dubious Memories,” a piece which examines the destructive course of a love triangle from the points of view of all three participants. Heavily influenced by Akira Kurosawa’s Rashômon (1950), the piece wisely concerns itself with the impossibility of discovering objective truth with only subjective human sources—sources which, consciously or not, twist reality to better suit their own needs.
Opposite of which comes Paul Taylor: Creative Domain, which attempts an overarching objectivity with its intrusive, omnipresent cameras and multitudinous interviews with collaborators and dancers. But in striving for objectivity, I think Geis has missed one of the most interesting dynamics surrounding present-day Taylor: he’s getting older and everyone around him knows it. Well in his mid-80s, Taylor isn’t as spry and flexible as he used to be. Notice how the simple act of getting down on one knee to demonstrate a move to a dancer practically winds him. At his age, he doesn’t so much choreograph as conduct, standing to the side or behind a desk and giving verbal commands.
All of this isn’t to say that, at his age, Taylor isn’t a vital creative force in American dance. But a more interesting angle would have been to explore the stubborn need to create despite increasing limitations. One interviewee mentions how recently Taylor’s work has become obsessed with dreams and memories. Yet Geis never makes a connection between this internalized subject matter and Taylor’s getting closer and closer to death. Of course, there might not be one. But Geis never even explores the possibility. The film seems to suggest that no fundamental difference exists between Taylor’s creative methods designing “Three Dubious Memories” and those used for his 1950s work. For that matter, Geis never explores Taylor’s illustrious career, thereby stripping any possible contextualization of “Three Dubious Memories” within his larger oeuvre. The result is a portrait of an artist in perpetual stasis, never aging, never evolving. Well-chimed interview platitudes about Taylor’s rare approval of his own work and his obsession with whatever’s next ring hollow. How can we know where he’s going when we don’t know where he’s been?