Taylor 2 Dance Company | Essays

Onstage: Interview with Johnny Vorsteg of Taylor 2

Oct 5, 2016

16-17 Season | October 5, 2016

On Friday and Saturday, October 15th and 16th, the Taylor 2 Dance Company will leap back on to the Schimmel Stage to give our audience a reminder of what makes Paul Taylor one of the most remarkable choreographers of the modern era. The performance will include three of his most prolific pieces; “Aureole,” “Dust,” and “Piazzolla Caldera.” I had the chance to interview Johnny Vorsteg, one of Taylor 2’s brightest young talents and ask him more about what makes this group so extraordinary.

Johnny Vorsteg of Taylor 2 Dance Company Photo: Whitney Browne

Johnny Vorsteg of Taylor 2 Dance Company
Photo: Whitney Browne

M: When were you first exposed to dance? When did you know you wanted to dedicate a career to it?

J: I was first exposed to dance as a musical theatre major my freshman year at NYU. Broadway was all I could see of tomorrow, but really I didn’t know much about the genre. I started training technically: singing and speech production, acting, storytelling and dance. I always knew I could carry a tune and quickly found out I was great at storytelling and awful at dance. Dance very quickly seduced me, tugging at my heartstrings more and more as time passed. It was the hardest for me but what I grew, pretty quickly, to care the most about. As invested as I became in the art, it wasn’t until after college though, after studying at the Taylor School, that I realized I wanted to pursue concert dance and shelf my broadway pursuits. 

M: When and how did you join the Taylor 2 Dance Company?

J: I auditioned 4 times for Paul. My first audition I think I was still in school, finishing up my degrees in dance and English at Montclair state University. (I transferred there after 2 years at NYU). I was still so new to dance and really knew nothing about the Taylor style. By the time the 2nd and 3rd auditions rolled around, I was already a Taylor diehard, happily putting all my eggs in the Taylor basket, taking class every day. I volunteered to help out at the studio, any way I could, for free class. I did everything from vacuuming to clerical. I loved every minute I spent at the studio and especially treasured my time watching the company rehearse. That was an education in and of itself. Paul later gifted me with a scholarship making my continued daily study there possible. 

M: Why is Paul Taylor’s choreography special to you? What separates him from other choreographers of the modern era?

J: When I did my first Taylor intensive, I remember so vividly how impossible it all felt, meeting the physical requirements and cardiovascular demands of the work: rich musicality, dynamic weight shifts, dizzying spatial patterns, a grounded athleticism that is at once fierce and graceful. I remember thinking through the burning fatigue and sweat of it all: “I could get used to this.” The work is so intensely satisfying because it is so diverse. Paul creates these entire worlds for us to live in that are as much fun to inhabit, as they are to watch. Each one like a perfect painting, spanning a huge emotional spectrum, each alive with nuance and passion and beauty and struggle. At any given moment you could feel like you’re luxuriating in a bubble bath, or a gladiator, charging into battle. As simple as a tender touch on your lover’s shoulder or as exhilarating as speedy floorwork and sailing jumps: physicalizing these extremes in the repertory is a great challenge and privilege. I think it is this inherent theatricality in the work that separates Paul from other choreographers of the modern era. 

M: Of the three pieces being performed at the Schimmel Center, is there a particular piece that resonates with you more than the others? Why is that?

J: I really do love all the pieces we’re doing at Pace! I love that each one calls for me to surrender my heart to the movement in a totally different way. Aureole is technical and classical. The Handel is unapologetically bright and happy. You feel buoyed by these sensations of space and freedom and love and light. Dust is darker, weirder. We’re in these nude unitards with blotchy spatters on them. The fragmented shapes and broken angles are thrown and tossed. The work I think celebrates the beauty of the distorted and damaged. It’s awesome and so physical. And the great Piazzola too! So much Latin heat and there’s not even a tango step in it! But it sizzles with sensuality. It’s earthy and erotic, it’s an amazing dance. Maybe this is my favorite…..but I really do love them all! 

M: Do you have an all-time favorite Paul Taylor piece? Why is that one your favorite?

 J: This is easy. I have two absolute favorite Taylor dances that are tied. Roses and Brandenburgs. Brandenburgs is one of the 7 pieces Paul has made using the music of J.S. Bach. He appears in an interview and says the dance is about gallantry. The costumes are green velvet. It is pure joy and happiness and elegance and I’m obsessed. Roses was the first bit of material I learned at my first Taylor intensive. It is probably the most romantic of all the Taylor works: all the couples stay together and nobody breaks up! I think it’s a celebration of love. It’s gorgeous and I’m equally obsessed. The men’s subtle gray tights are the perfect contrast for the women’s magnificent black gowns, stunning and flowing by William Ivey Long. The music is the sublime Siegfried Idyll. I love that Wagner gave his wife this piece of music as a birthday gift too! 

M: What advice would you give to a young dance student who dreams of being a part of a prestigious dance company one day?

J: I think throughout the phases of our training as young artists, we’re encouraged to cast a wide net. Then upon graduating school, it’s thought prudent to stay available for many projects, say yes to everyone and do everything. All that can make for rewarding experiences and valid fulfillment, but I think it’s important to bravely put your eggs into the basket of dreams. Streamlining your artistic ambitions is scary, a risk, and can feel like the point of no return. But you don’t have to see the full staircase to take the first step.