Taylor Stanley creates her own program at Jacob’s Pillow

At New York City Ballet, Taylor Stanley is the resident shapeshifter, with an uncanny ability to mold to any mood or music. It attracts choreographers like a magnet. They tend to create solos for him that stand out from all the rest of the repertoire, like the silky, undulating centerpiece of Fugue created for him in 2018 by Kyle Abraham. Now the soft-spoken artist is curating a program for Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, featuring works by choreographers Stanley feels particularly close to and admires most: Jodi Melnick, Shamel Pitts, Andrea Miller, William Forsythe and Talley Beatty. The program, titled “To be dichotomouswill premiere at The Pillow on July 27.

How was the process of creating this evening for you?

It has been a time of change, growth and change; I feel like I’m moving towards who I want to be and what I want to do. The pandemic has definitely been an impetus for this change, a preparation for whatever is happening in my life. I discover myself as Taylor, as someone who is not so attached to this company. I always knew I had an individuality that felt separate or stood out in a way that I shied away from. But I’m learning to recognize my worth, to give myself credit in a way that I didn’t have in the past.

How hard was it to return to live play with NYCB last fall after being away for so long?

The social aspect of returning was particularly difficult, due to all the intense virtual interactions and conversations we had while we were away. I learned so much about my own experience, about the unchecked trauma I had as a person of color in a predominantly white institution. The pandemic has been a wake-up call to times I’ve overlooked in the past.

The living choreographers you have chosen are people with whom you have already worked and with whom you have things in common. Shamel Pitts, for example, danced for Batsheva, where, like you, he was a black dancer in a predominantly white company.

He was actually one of my first Gaga teachers. I have always admired his presence and his way of moving, with such awareness and calm. He gives me a 10 minute solo. It’s really about stepping into a space and experiencing every moment in real time. I think “code-switching” is the most succinct word to describe how I feel walking into different spaces. Shamel guided those deeper roots so they could pour out of me. It’s part of me to see something I want to step into and get rid of a layer of shyness.

You also dance the 1947 solo mourning bench by African-American choreographer Talley Beatty. What attracted you to this job?

It was actually recommended to me by Norton Owen, the director of preservation at Jacob’s Pillow. I really didn’t know anything about Talley Beatty, or the fact that he had played the solo at The Pillow. But I immediately connected to the African-American spiritual lineage that exists in this solo. I grew up religious, although it’s not something I practice anymore. But the black church is part of me and part of my roots.

Taylor Stanley in Andrea Miller sky to hold. Photo by Erin Baiano, courtesy NYCB.

You also perform a distilled version of sky to hold, the piece Andrea Miller created for NYCB last fall. He had an extraordinary, strange, very organic solo for you. What is your relationship with her?

I’ve known Andrea since she created a solo for me for Dance Against Cancer in 2017. She was the real driving force behind my interest in Gaga. When she came to City Ballet, I felt like I was finally able to exercise that part of me that wanted to do that kind of movement in the ballet studio. One of my big intentions was to share this way of connecting to the body with everyone in the company.

You called the evening “Being Dichotomous”, but I feel like there are more than two sides of yourself that are being explored here.

I like this multiplicity. I guess it’s a test of the versatility I’ve developed over the years and the interest I’ve developed in other types of movements. Getting into these different processes goes like a glove.

Ryan H. Bowman