JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: remembering a giant in the world of dance and the performing arts, choreographer Paul Taylor. Jeffrey Brown has our remembrance of his career and why he became one of the most influential creators in his field.
JEFFREY BROWN: Joyful, athletic, and lyrical, Paul Taylor's choreography was often complex, always human. Hailed as a towering figure of modern dance, Taylor's success in movement group from a unique eye for observation, as he told me when we met in 2007.
PAUL TAYLOR, Choreographer: Watching people has always been something that I have done even as a kid. You know I changed schools a lot. And I knew almost immediately who was gonna be the class bully, who to watch out for. And you can tell sometimes by the way they move. And walking is the most revealing. A walk is like a fingerprint. No two people walk the same.
JEFFREY BROWN: Taylor was born in 1930 and spent part of his early years on a farm in Maryland. An athlete in his youth, he went to Syracuse University on a swimming scholarship, but discovered a love for dance in his 20s.
PAUL TAYLOR: I fell in love with the idea of dance. It just hit me all of a sudden. And the idea of being a dancer was like the idea of being a flame. And I loved to move.
JEFFREY BROWN: At 6 feet tall, he was a virtuosic performer who quickly captured the attention of dance legends, performing with Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, and George Balanchine, before devoting himself to his own troupe, the Paul Taylor Dance Company. There, he created and perform landmark works like Aureole, a 1962 piece choreographed to music by Handel that remains in the company's performance repertoire today. Taylor even pushed the boundaries for what was considered dance, as in his minimalist 1957 work called Duet where, for four minutes, he and a reclining woman never moved. Over more than six decades, Taylor explored all aspects of the human experience, from joy to the horror of war. And he offered his audiences a range of styles, from the classical to slapstick.
PAUL TAYLOR: Dance, I think, consciously or unconsciously, symbolizes life. And it reflects the human condition. It tells us the joys, the sorrows, the fallacies, the idiocies, the brilliance, anything human.
JEFFREY BROWN: Taylor himself retired from performing in 1974, but continued to choreograph, often still polishing movement even in dress rehearsals.
PAUL TAYLOR: OK, good.
JEFFREY BROWN: He created an astounding body of work, at least two new dancers a year, for a total of 147 pieces. In recent years, Taylor took steps to ensure a continuing life for his troupe, naming dancer Michael Novak as its next artistic director. And the company will continue to tour worldwide.
PAUL TAYLOR: I think there will always be a need for dance, for dancers to dance and for watchers to watch. I believe that. I have to believe that.
JEFFREY BROWN: Paul Taylor died Wednesday in Manhattan of kidney failure. He was 88 years old.