Choreographer named recipient of Arts and Humanities achievement medal

The 2011 recipient of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities Medal for Distinguished Achievement will be dancer and choreographer Paul Taylor. Taylor is among the pantheon of artists, such as Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Alvin Ailey and Merce Cunningham, who created America's canon of modern dance. At an age when most artists’ best work is behind them, Taylor continues to win acclaim for the vibrancy, relevance and power of his recent dances as well as his classics.

In the 1950s, when Taylor’s work was so cutting-edge that it could send confused audience members flocking to the exits, Martha Graham dubbed him the “naughty boy” of dance. And yet, while his work has largely been iconoclastic, since the very start of his career Taylor also has made some of the most purely romantic, most astonishingly athletic, and downright funniest dances ever put on stage. Taylor has set dances to ragtime, reggae and rock, tango, Tin Pan Alley and barbershop quartets; works by baroque masters Bach, Boyce and Handel and iconoclasts Feldman, Ligeti and Varése; monotonous time announcements, plaintive loon calls and hysterical laughter.

Taylor was born in Pennsylvania in 1930 and grew up in and around Washington, D.C. He was a swimmer and student of painting at Syracuse University in the late 1940s until he discovered dance, which he began studying at Juilliard. By 1954 he had assembled a small company of dancers and was making his own works. A commanding performer despite his late start, he joined the Martha Graham Dance Company in 1955 for the first of seven seasons as soloist while continuing to choreograph on his own troupe.

After retiring as a performer in 1974, Mr. Taylor devoted himself fully to choreography and masterpieces continued to pour forth, including "Esplanade," "Cloven Kingdom," "Dust," "Airs," "Mercuric Tidings," "Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal)," "Arden Court," "Last Look," "Musical Offering," "Syzygy," "Speaking in Tongues," "Company B," "Eventide," "Piazzolla Caldera," "Promethean Fire," "Banquet of Vultures" and "Beloved Renegade." Taylor also is the subject of the 1998 documentary "Dancemaker," author of his 1987 autobiography, "Private Domain," and the essay “Why I Make Dances.” He remains among the most sought-after choreographers working today, commissioned by ballet companies and presenting organizations the world over.

The medal ceremony will be held in the fall of 2011. Contact the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at 814-865-0495 or arts-humanities@psu.edu for more information.

Last Updated April 14, 2011