The camera peeks out of the darkness, between the lights, and through the wings to the dazzling brightness, color, and motion of a modern dance. So begins Dancemaker, a documentary that fulfills its promise to turn the modern dance world inside out. As the title implies, the Oscar-nominated film focuses on one self-described "dancemaker," choreographer (and former dancer) Paul Taylor.
The film, produced and directed by Matthew Diamond, concisely presents the modern landscape of modern dance, Taylor himself, and the community of supporters that surrounds the man called convincingly by one friend "the ultimate loner." The paradox of Taylor's isolation and "familial" support ultimately becomes clear through the mosaic of Taylor's life-from a troubled foster upbringing through a fiery career as a protege of Martha Graham to his own company, a royal court over which he presides as an unquestioned king.
Cinematographer Tom Hurwitz photographs the rehearsals in black and white, while performances and real life are in color, and the result is surprisingly unaffected and effective. Diamond shows us Taylor's tyrannical side, but his genius wins out. As Taylor says, climactically, "The dance is life." Taylor may emotionally bully his company, drive them batty with his unprepared rehearsals, and shock them with last-minute changes and firings, but who could argue with his results?
The dancers come across as true heroes in a truly mad but noble profession. We see the brute athleticism required to carry off a sense of easy grace, hear the tales of impossible employment odds, quick burnout, injuries, and worse, the deaths of colleagues to AIDS. Seeing the militaristic efficiency of their packing for tour is almost as telling as the eloquent but unforced interviews Diamond elicits. Taylor's dedicated staff also comes off well, passionately fighting the bottom line which threatens to destroy their art.
As for Taylor himself, his dances have a dynamic brilliance even in the quietest moments of repose; we see a wide range from dark and torrid to down- and-dirty sexual mating dances and explosive, expansive celebrations of movement itself. After just a few minutes of exposure to Taylor's work, the thought sticks: dance is painting with bodies. Though the dances themselves are sometimes histrionically shot or overedited, Diamond ultimately succeeds in putting Taylor's best foot forward in this wholly memorable film.