Paul Taylor was born on July 29, 1930, in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, and grew up in the Washington, D.C. area. He went on to attend Syracuse University through a swimming scholarship and in 1951 took up dance training, which became his all-consuming passion. He henceforth transferred to The Juilliard School in New York City and choreographed works of his own, starting his own dance company in the mid-1950s. The May 30, 1954 presentation of "Jack and the Beanstalk" is credited as the Paul Taylor Dance Company's first work.
Taylor trained under modern dance greats like Martha Graham and José Limón and joined the Graham Dance Company as a soloist in 1955, remaining with the group for several seasons. He also worked with choreographers Merce Cunningham and George Balanchine, who created the solo work "Episodes" specifically for Taylor as a 1959 New York City Ballet guest artist.
Over the decades, the Paul Taylor Dance Company has created a repertory that's solidified its status as one of the premier modern dance organizations in the world. Taylor ruffled critics with earlier, convention-defying works like "Seven New Dances: Duet" (1957), which famously utilizes a lack of movement. Taylor's style often relies upon blending everyday, natural gestures with more traditional technique. He has a vivid knack for irreverence and humor as well, as seen with the playful pastoral, "Arden Court" (1981).
Among Taylor's prominent pieces are "Three Epitaphs" (1956), "Aureole" (1962), "Esplanade" (1975), "Airs" (1978) and "Speaking in Tongues" (1988); his dances cover a wide range of topics, such as love, sexual orientation, feminism, war and religion. As of spring 2013, he has created more than 130 works, many of which have been set on dozens of other companies like the Royal Danish Ballet, Paris Opéra Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Taylor also started Paul Taylor 2 Dance Company in 1993, a small group that both performs and handles dance education.
Taylor's company has set up a foundation and school, and the man himself has earned an array of honors and awards, including multiple Guggenheim Fellowships, a MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Fellowship, Kennedy Center honors and a 1993 National Medal of Arts from President Bill Clinton.
Taylor released his autobiography Private Domain in 1987. In 2008, he wrote a compelling article for the Wall Street Journal on his motivation for creating dance and in 2013 published the essay-collection, Facts and Fancies.
The dance-maker has impacted TV and film as well. He won a 1992 Emmy Award for the PBS program Speaking in Tongues, and the 1998 Matthew Diamond documentary on the Taylor company, Dancemaker, received an Academy Award nomination.