A few years ago, a tall beautiful dancer made an appearance on the Los Angeles dance scene, performing briefly with two well-known Los Angeles based companies, AteNine Dance Company and BODYTRAFFIC. Being part of a professional touring company was a dream that she had envisioned for herself since childhood. Eager to fulfill her dream of creating her own work, she made what she feared might be the wrong professional decision by giving up performing in someone else’s company and set about to create her own. Founded as recently as 2015, her company has captured the attention of the entire L.A. dance community. That talented dancer and choreographer is Micaela Taylor, founding Director of Micaela Taylor + The TL Collective.
Born and raised in LA, Taylor is the middle child, having an older brother and a younger sister. Together her parents founded Arise Christian Center in the LA neighborhood of Westchester in 1999, where Ron Taylor is still pastor. Taylor was quick to say that her parents allowed her to make her own decision about religion. “What I love and admire about my parents” Taylor said. “is that they never forced Christianity down our throats. They just lived out what they believed.” Because of this, she never had a negative view of Christians while growing up in that environment. It was not until around the time that she turned 21 and had “experienced true heartache and pain” that her religion became her own. That community, the one that she grew up in, is one that she can always return to. “However, it’s important to me that people know that I also view Him as much more.” Taylor said that when she uses the word returning, she means “…returning to my first love or way of living. Putting my ultimate trust in God always, not just when I’m down and out.”
Taylor attended the Los Angeles County High School of the Arts (LACHSA) which was not close to where she lived. Because she was bused there, the friends that she made at LACHSA, she only saw there. She said that she never had any close friends until she attended college.
Taylor began her dance training in Hip Hop and other forms of commercial dance at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy. Around the age of thirteen, she knew that she needed more formal dance training and enrolled at the Marat Daukayev School of Ballet. At first, she studied modern dance with Karen McDonald before also training in ballet. Daukayev teaches the Vaganova method, devised by the Russian ballerina and teacher Agrippina Vaganova. It is a fusion of “traditional French ballet style from the romantic era with the athleticism and virtuosity of Italian technique”. Because of her limited training, and the fact that she was placed in level II, ballet proved to be difficult for Taylor. She persevered, however, enrolling in private lessons that she admitted often brought tears to her eyes. “It forced me to grow and learn quickly.” Taylor said. This was around the time she was also growing and had reached puberty, so retraining this new body of hers was difficult. She was taller and not as thin as the other girls. Her turnout was not what was desired for ballet, and it was during this time that Taylor realized that she was different.
When it became time to start thinking about college, Taylor’s first choice was to go to the Julliard School in New York City, considered by many to be Mecca for dance. At LACHSA, they had teachers come from several different arts universities. She auditioned for Julliard School; University of the Arts, Philadelphia; California Institute of the Arts; and the Cornish College of the Arts. She was accepted by all but Julliard. Cornish offered her the best scholarship, so she enrolled there in the fall of 2011 where she studied with Iyun Harrison, who danced with Alvin Ailey; Pat Hon, who danced with Martha Graham; with Lodi McClellan, Deborah Wolf (Modern) and Steve Casteel (Ballet). During her years at Cornish, Taylor also danced with the Seattle based ANNA CONNER + CO; Zoe Scofield of zoe/juniper; and Kate Wallich, the Seattle based founding artistic director/choreographer of Kate + The YC.
Taylor said that Kate Wallich, who is only four years older than Taylor, has had a big influence on her career. “She was my senior solo choreographer in college.” Taylor said of Wallich. “I’m really inspired by her because she started creating right out of school, or at a young age like I am doing now. She gave me hope that if she could do it, so could I.”
It was during her time at Cornish that Taylor made her first very close friends and where she developed a romantic relationship that she thought was going to be life-long. After two years, a close friend left school and her romance ended suddenly. Taylor described this as her first time of feeling broken. When pressed to define what she meant by the term “broken,” she paused and quietly said, “The feeling of being without hope.” It was during this time that she returned to her Christian roots and discovered for her true beliefs about God and his love. “Fortunately, I felt that love and believed that God was real.”
Taylor returned to Los Angeles after earning her BFA in Dance in 2014 from Cornish. She felt like she had reached her dream when she got into AteNine Dance Company, but after a few months felt that something was missing. She had a similar experience with BODYTRAFFIC. At first, she was thrilled to be part of a touring company, but that emptiness soon returned. She finally decided that, despite being young and inexperienced with choreographing or running a dance company, that she would gather a small group together and try. This decision led to the formation of Micaela Taylor + The TL Collective.
Since launching her company in 2015, Taylor and The TL has presented a full evening work titled Molecular Fuel (2016) at Highways Performance Space; performed POPMADNESS in LA at the Grand Performances, performed Broken Bones at the Théâtre Raymond Kabbaz on the Los Angeles Dance Festival; ROSEWOOD (Excerpts) at the BOOTLEG Theatre, and most recently, premiered the company’s first commissioned work titled ROSEWOOD at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble.
During our interview, Taylor and I discussed her work with other dance companies and the inspirations behind her own works, Broken Bones and ROSEWOOD. She told me that after graduating from college, she felt broken, without hope. It was then that she turned to God for support and healing. Broken Bones and ROSEWOOD would later be inspired by that period in her life.
“This is what I wanted.” She said about performing and touring with AteNine and BODYTRAFFIC. “It was great, but there was this burning desire to fulfill my purpose or this calling that I had.” She added. She left AteNine after only eight months and BODYTRAFFIC after just three or four tours. “I felt this restoration and needed to share that story with people. “But I felt fear.” She said. “I was young and did not know anything about running a business. I had fear about offending people.” She knew that people had different beliefs and she was afraid of being rejected. “I also felt inadequate, because I didn’t know how to express my faith through words.”
Her statement about not knowing how to express her ideas through words struck me as ironic. One of the things that I wrote about when I reviewed Taylor’s Molecular Fuel at Highways, was that she had created a movement technique, fusing Hip Hop with contemporary modern dance, and while viewing her work, I could almost hear what the dancers were saying to each other with their movements. It was an extraordinary feeling. I was hearing unspoken dialogue through movement. Broken Bones is not just about Taylor, but about the stories of all the members of TL Collective or anyone else who is feeling broken. She took their stories and made movement, highlighting Sam McReynolds. “I felt that he could really portray in his body what it is like to be lost or feel lost.” ROSEWOOD is about her personal struggle with her faith and the realization that yes, she does believe.
We talked about her definition of being broken; a word that Taylor repeated many times throughout the interview. “It means a lot of things.” She explained. “Emotionally, mentally, financially. All of it. But, for me, the ultimate meaning of brokenness meant having no hope, not seeing a way out, or not being able to rely on anything that this world could offer.” She felt that she could not rely on a person, herself, intellect, wisdom or human knowledge. She said that when she felt broken, that everything she knew to be true or thought to be the answer had failed her.
ROSEWOOD speaks to her struggles with events in her life that drew her away from what she knew as a child growing up in a very Christian home. It references things happening to her and others that are unexpected. There is a video projection in the work, showing Taylor sitting in a bath tub. After wetting her face and hair, she slowly slides beneath the water. “The bath tub represents me drowning.” Taylor said.
The movement that Taylor does is clearly influenced by Hip Hop, and she admits to really enjoying dancing and watching that dance genre. Her choreography, however is so much more and she has moved far beyond it to create a vocabulary of her own. For me, Hip Hop is an art form, but Taylor has taken it to much higher level.
Taylor may think that she doesn’t know anything about running a business, but she seems to have an innate sense of how to promote her work and The TL Collective. Her website is beautiful, as are her promotional materials. She expressed worry that she was putting out too much material, but I assured her that when artists do not do that, people forget who they are.
Like all artists, Taylor wants her company to grow, mature and to reach a larger audience. She understands she has a lot to learn and a lot of work to do to keep her company moving in the direction that she can so clearly see. When asked if there was anything she wanted people to know that I had not asked, she said that people always asked what the TL stood for in her company’s title. “It stands for To Love.”
Micaela Taylor is a talent to watch. She is very gifted, and she sees the vision of where she wants to take her company very clearly. If her skills and faith continue to shine their light from within her, she could go far.
For more information about Micaela Taylor + TL Collection, click here.
To view the L.A. Dance Chronicle Calendar of performances, click here.