Tribute to Jonathan Taylor


by Author Amaliah Grace aka. Pamela Buckman

Jonathan.  You came and you conquered our Aussie lands. 

It all began for me in 1975, when you walked into the new Ballet Victoria studios in Fitzroy.  A short wiry bombshell of a man with a Manchester accent and a shock of black curly hair.  Little did I know that you would influence my dancing life for the next twenty years.

You created the trio from ‘Stars End’ on yourself and me, later teaching the two men I would be dancing with, time shortage being great. You took Melbourne audiences by storm with the eclectic electronic score and a fast-paced ballet in flat shoes and simple costumes. The first night audiences rose to their feet in applause and it set the tone for your future and ours, creating a dynamic change to contemporary dance in Australia in 1975. ‘Stars End’ was in the middle of a program that started with Les Sylphides and finished with Napoli. We went from pointe shoes to bare feet, to ballet flats and back to point.

You had, however, followed in the footsteps of Jaap Flier, a Dutch choreographer from Netherlands Dance Theatre who brought to us his European influence in Australian Dance Theatre during his time as joint Artistic Director with Elizabeth Cameron Dalman. Jaap, two years later went on to be Artistic Director of Sydney Dance Company known then as the NSW Dance Company and helped it to bloom.

TRIO from ‘Stars End’ choreographer Jonathan Taylor FOR BALLET VICTORIA
Dancers. Ross Phillip, Garry & Pamela Buckman.

On the strength and success of ‘Stars End’ you were invited to become the next Artistic Director of Australian Dance Theatre, to build a completely new company of dancers when it reformed after their year’s recess.

In your wisdom, you knew you needed help to build a new company in the style of Ballet Rambert where you had originated from. You brought with you Joseph Scoglio and Julia Blaikie with enormous combined talents as dancers and choreographers, who helped you shape the coming years of dance and the dancers into a reality.

During the dormant year of ADT, Ballet Victoria tried to fly too high, touring for five months with the recently defected Russian couple, the Panovs, and very sadly went bankrupt.  The outcome of this enabled you to capture both of the Regional States’ funding for Victoria and South Australia to finance your vision for ADT’s future.

And so we began.  The nucleus group in the first year, of which I was one, entered the Gouger Street studios in crippling heat, with only overhead fans for relief. Over the next six months in rehearsals only, we faced the task of becoming an ensemble group, learning and creating twelve works, forming a formidable repertoire which aimed to shape us towards creating a unique contemporary dance style.

You pushed us, you ran with us. You jumped with us as you yelled and encouraged us to “Push harder, jump higher and run faster” across the room bringing us into an ensemble, who worked and pulled together for a common goal. And so we continued and you got the best out of us with your dynamic fire and determination to set this new company onto the world stage. And so you did.

You brought out leading overseas choreographers from America and Ballet Rambert in London, starting with former Rambert Artistic Director Norman Morris.

In the heat of the Australian summer Norman created a soft and gentle pastoral work called ‘Seven Songs’. Then works from USA choreographers, Yuriko, from the Martha Graham company, the bombshell Sara Sugihara, and also gentle Cliff Keuter with his moving work ‘Field’. And then we got to experience the amazingly crafted works of renowned English choreographer Christopher Bruce. His dynamic ‘Labyrinth’ was created on us. He also reproduced his world renowned works ‘Black Angels’ and later ‘Ghost Dances’ and ‘Holiday Sketches’. These works and your creations, shaped the Company onto the world stage for our first overseas tour to South East Asia.  

I can still remember dancing your work ‘Incident at Bull Creek’ in the open air performance stage in Djakarta. It was an experience I will never forget. It began to rain, the umbrellas came up and one woman went crazy yelling all through the work and was later taken away.  This performance was one of many in Singapore, Hong Kong, Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Djakarta.

INCIDENT AT BULL CREEK, choreography by Jonathan Taylor for ADT.
Dancers, John Knobbs and Pamela Buckman

I still wonder what the Asian audiences thought of ‘Flibbertigibbet’ when we came out in painted baggie overalls and cute colourful clown hats; sat on their laps and climbed over the seats or slid down the aisles. They weren’t quite sure whether they were allowed to laugh, but you got them in the end.

Jonathan your propensity for comedy was a gift to us all. And the crafting of your more serious works ‘Transfigured Night’ and ‘While We Watched’ captured and moved us and the audiences alike, throughout Australia and overseas.

In 1980 Australian Dance Theatre was invited to the Edinburgh Festival with ‘Wildstars’ and a repertoire of six other works. It was a great success and a week later we crossed the Channel to tour Holland and Poland before returning to Australia for further seasons in Adelaide and Melbourne in the same year.

‘WILDSTARS’ choreography Jonathon Taylor, Director Nigel Triffet for ADT.
Dancers. Pamela Buckman, Robert Canning, Ronnie van den Berg and Margaret Wilson.

You accomplished all of this in only five years of passionate hard work, clever business acumen and solid rehearsals in the studio, with a heap of sweat and belly laughs.

And we all loved you for it.  The company had come of age. 

And yet you still needed to get to London and have your company dance there. Two years later in 1982 you fulfilled that dream, performing in London at the Sadlers Wells Theatre, then touring to Germany, Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia.

You continued to bring in overseas choreographers to further develop and influence your dancers. Glen Tetley created an original and masterful work on four dancers in his work ‘Revelation and Fall’ for the Adelaide Festival of Arts in 1984 and you, in contrast, decided to take yourself and the dancers down into a bunker and explore humanity under extreme stress below ground after fallout in your work ‘For Ever and Ever’. An interesting and thought provoking program all round.

It reminded me of the other human statement you explored in your work ‘Broken Head’. I can see the time you walked into the studio for its first rehearsal, holding a small naked doll with a piece broken out of its head.  At the time Britain was having riots and difficulty with Punk Rockers and their violence, and you thought to mirror their expression, even to throwing dustbins around. We had a dubious moment when a dustbin was thrown too hard and bounced into the audience almost hitting them.

Jonathan, you came and you conquered and you created a star company and left a great legacy for all the dancers who had the honour of working for you.

Many of us went on further afield to overseas or local companies. You also gave us the opportunity to begin our choreographic careers with the yearly choreographic studio performances. Many dancers went on to have lengthy dance careers in dance companies in Europe. To name but a few; Netherlands Dance Theatre, Cullberg Ballet in Sweden, Ballet Rambert and London Contemporary Dance Theatre in Britain.

I carried your integrity and vision with me when I became rehearsal director and choreographer for the Queensland Ballet Company, transferring your legacy for hard work and passion for excellence in rehearsals, challenging the dancers to reach their best in performance.

Jonathan, you lived a great and full life, with intensity, passion and humour. You brought with you from England your wife and life partner, Ariette, and your beautiful children, Ingmar, Juliet and Rebe, and your dance support team, Joe and Julia, who worked tirelessly beside you to create a wonderful, quality company. 

You have earned your rest. Be content and proud of the excellence and the legacy you brought to us and to Australian contemporary dance.

Farewell.  Adieu. Until we meet again.

Pamela Buckman ADT dancer and choreographer of ‘Soliloguy’ and ‘Shadows’ for ADT.

And may you fly out into the cosmos towards ‘Stars End.’

Copyright Amaliah Grace March 2019.

AMALIAH GRACE aka Pamela Buckman