Don't tell ronald taylor that there's nothing new in the dance world."It's all in the way you present it," says the artistic director of Canboulay Dance Theatre. "Take something, reconfigure it and present it in a format people haven't seen before."
This philosophy has served him well. As a Juilliard-educated black man from the Caribbean who's lived here for more than a decade, he has plenty of influences to draw on.
"People in the black dance community tend to be marginalized," he says, settling into a chair at Artword Theatre, where his latest program, In The Depths Of My Palais, opens Wednesday (December 13).
"If you see a black man from the Caribbean go up and dance, you think he'll be snapping and moving his waist to a drum in the background. Sure, those elements are in my work. But I like to infuse other elements to make everything richer."
In Palais, an all-ages show that includes stilt-walking, storytelling, visual art and costumes by noted mas designer Walter Elliott, Taylor looks back to his childhood in Trinidad and Tobago. "The palais is a ritualistic gathering space for name-giving ceremonies when a child is born," he explains. "As a boy, I'd go with my mother. I remember falling asleep under a mango tree and suddenly waking to the sound of drums to catch a glimpse of something, a dance or a costume."
Two new pieces for the program include tributes to women in the choreographer's life. Songs My Mother Taught Me looks back at all the different kinds of mothers who raised him ("women who kept me from straying"), while Beryl "O" Beryl is a tribute to the woman considered the mother of Caribbean dance, Beryl McBernie, who passed away this spring.
"She was instrumental in the reconstruction of Trinidad and Tobago culture when it gained its independence in 1962," says Taylor, who worked with the legend at the famed Little Carib Theatre. "She travelled throughout the Caribbean, studying the indigenous dances and refining them for the stage. The way Caribbean dance is presented today is in part due to Beryl's interpretations. It's trickled down, just like Balanchine's work in ballet.
"She's important, not just to dance, but for convincing us that Caribbean culture could position itself in the world."
Even in such an unlikely place as T.O. in December.IN THE DEPTHS OF MY PALAIS choreographed by RONALD TAYLOR, presented by Canboulay Dance Theatre and Artword Theatre at Artword (75 Portland). December 13-16 at 8 pm. $20, stu/srs $15, child $10. 408-2783.