Dancemaker: Inside a Dance Documentary

Matthew Diamond has a background in dance as an understudy and technician for a company (not Taylor’s), so his interest in Paul Taylor’s company, as a filmmaker, stems from a sincere affection for Taylor’s craft as a choreographer and dancer.

Taylor, when selecting a director for this docu, requested Diamond to direct even after viewing work by other directing candidates. Diamond had worked with Taylor before as director for two PBS installations for “American Dance”.

Both Diamond and Taylor had a vision for this film in that it would serve as an introduction to the dance world for the atypical viewer–not season ticket holders (who Diamond admittedly relied upon as a “given” audience, but people who normally do not attend dance recitals or the ballet). Diamond said, “The goal was to ground an idyllic, ethereal art form in reality…The story cuts across all sorts of groups since we all have ambition, we all experience frustration…I was making a date movie.”

Filmmaking Process

Diamond acquired his footage of Taylor’s dance company over 23 days of rehearsal and the eventual NY debut for Taylor’s new production of “Piazolla Caldera.” Taylor granted Diamond “unlimited access.” The project cost about $1 million.

Beginning with a general outline and a vague notion of what he wanted for his end product, Diamond’s goal was to “reexpress [dance] in another medium.” Diamond notes that his viewpoints of the rehearsals were virtually unrestricted because Taylor’s studio does have mirrors where dancer’s face front. In situations such as mirrored studios, Diamond would have been concerned with hiding the camera in rear shots. As a result, Diamond acquired footage from unusual angles and viewpoints, which positions the viewer inside of the process, rather than having the usual stage view.

Actual choreography and dance is the dominant theme, but the regimentary process of getting a performance where Taylor wants it is strong supporting material for the film. Diamond was careful to include the downside of dance rehearsing through injury, intense competition, the closeness of AIDSrelated deaths, and even a 30second phone call that results in Taylor abruptly firing a dancer. Diamond conducts one interview with a dancer while she soaks her feet in a sink of iced water.

The legacy that Taylor has left within American dance is also impressive. Without using “puff” footage, such as the pan shot of Taylor’s wall of fame and trophy case, Diamond leaves Taylor in his element. He shows his autocratic style of instruction in balance with his graceful approach to dance through archival footage from the 50s and 60s of Taylor’s performances. Intercutting footage of Taylor’s current troupe member, Patrick Corbin, as “Aureole” with archival footage of Taylor dancing the same part ties the ability of Taylor the dancer with the intense dancemaking of Taylor the choreographer.

Criticism

The film won critical acclaim upon release, winning the 1998 International Documentary Association’s feature award and receiving nominations for the 1999 Academy Award (docu feature) and the Directors Guild of America. Time magazine “gushed” that Dancemaker just might be the best film about dance made to date.

Fittingly, most of the film’s criticism came from its subject, Paul Taylor. He liked the film, but cringed at the segments that would evoke a sympathetic reaction toward the dancers, specifically the aches and pains segments. Diamond stipulated that he might have gone overboard, but he felt that it was important that the viewers understand that what they see in the end, what is “lovely,” comes at a price, and that the art form-craft is both emotionally and physically demanding.