A July 2000 Interview with SWING Choreographer/Director, Lynne Taylor-Corbett
By Kim Knode
Seated among the rows of celebrity caricature portraits at the renowned Sardis Restaurant in New York City, two-time Tony nominated, SWING Choreographer/Director, Lynne Taylor-Corbett explains, “like a baseball player getting out of the ghetto, dance was my way out.” She began her journey to Broadway with jetes and plies in a neighborhood ballet school and “dreamed that I would be here someday.” With a smile of contentment she continues, “As a screenwriter friend of mine said to me, ‘You’ve stepped into a small room at the top of the castle.'”
Talking to Taylor-Corbett, I see that the climb up the castle stairwell was not always easy. But there were signposts along the way signaling a close approach to a chamber reserved only for entrance by the royal, privileged and extremely talented.
One such indication came with acceptance into the Alvin Ailey Dance Company as the only Caucasian in the troupe. Taylor-Corbett says of her experience, “I learned so much about movement and about honesty and acting.”
I comment that her love of dance is very apparent. “I have a tremendous sense of texture of movement. My heart came from dance. I was a dancer first.”
Then why did she trade in roses from the audience to receiving flowers from the cast? The renowned choreographer chuckles as she recalls that, “I was at the School of the American Ballet for one summer with the heir apparent, Colleen Neary, of the New York City Ballet, I wanted terribly much to be a ballet dancer and was not suited.”
The solstice of that summer awakened Taylor-Corbett to the startling fact that, “I was not New York City Ballet material! I figured I could see myself on either side of her (Neary.) And that I can (still) make a contribution to this form.” She lifts her white china coffee cup off the starched Sardi’s linen and takes a sip, and then says, “Later on, at the Pacific Northwest Ballet, Colleen was in a ballet of mine. I had the pleasure of telling her that story.”
The choreographer continues, “You know, I’ve worked with some very well known dancers. These folks are just amazing.” Along with directing the elite of the dance world – American Ballet Theater and New York City Ballet – Taylor-Corbett’s resume boasts of creating choreography for super stars in the music scene like Natalie Cole and George Michael. Her choice of profession has also allowed her to “travel the world” from Asia (with jazz maestro, Pat Methany) to Africa (with the Alvin Ailey Company.)
Thanks to the reputation Taylor-Corbett has established for herself over the years, telephone calls come in from coast to coast, asking for her dance expertise for Broadway musicals and Hollywood movies. Her credits from the Great White Way include SWING, TITANIC and CHESS. Films made by the masters of tinsel town such as FOOTLOOSE and BLUE HEAVEN crown her with the title of choreographer.
Taylor-Corbett looks down for a moment into her coffee cup and confesses that there are, “stresses” in each of the mediums “that wear you down after a while.” The choreographer/director sites the “huge economic pressures of Broadway.” She continues, “Choreographers have no royalties. Sometimes it’s so thankless because we don’t have a union My colleagues who created FOOTLOOSE are very wealthy from that movie.”
So is choreography still her great joy and passion? “I think my great joy has morphed. Dancing was my great joy. And then being a choreographer was my great joy. And now creating projects like SWING – sort of total use of body and mind as it were – is my great joy and the next place to go My father was a writer. And I think that for me to work with the song and the dance and the music and the acting at the same time is just wonderful.”
Taylor-Corbett’s dramaturgical skills are evident in SWING. For example, “Boogie Woogie Country” spotlights the West Coast Swing champions in her cast. “I took chunks of their four-minute competition routine. And I built a context for their number since it is a Broadway show and people need threads of stories and characters-Robert (Royston) arrives overdressed like urban cowboy, feels self-conscious, and puts on this magic hat, which then enables him to be this boffo dancer!”
Along with the thrills of riding the roller coaster on the Great White Way, Taylor-Corbett admits that at times SWING proved to be a “rocky ride because the show was so complex in terms of the human dynamics. In trying to amalgam people from different, disparate backgrounds into a family I learned a lot about leadership and endurance.” Despite the difficulties of staging a show with many specialty numbers, the choreographer/director describes SWING as a “Giant party with a wonderful plethora of styles and joy including a bungee number with Swing in the air!”
I ask her about the road tour of SWING. Taylor-Corbett grimaces and says, “Well, that is indeed the problem I’m grappling with right now. I can’t cannibalize the Broadway Company. So I look for extraordinarily diverse dancers because the right kind of trained dancer can assimilate the style with the right teachers.” She admits that, “It is a four week learning curve and then another four weeks to become really comfortable in its style.” However, Taylor-Corbett remains optimistic. “We’ll be just fine,” she says. “Rod McCune (SWINGs Dance Captain) has literally assimilated all the styles and can teach them.” She also credits the champions who have shared their secrets of executing their specialties with fellow cast members.
Now that two Tony nominations are attached to her name for directing and choreographing SWING, I ask Taylor-Corbett if she has forsaken her traditional ballet training and converted to the ways of Swing? She laughs a hearty laugh and replies, “I’m going to tell a funny story because Ryan Francois (U.S. Open Swing Champion, Assistant Choreographer to the film, SWING KIDS) is in the room. When I was in London, I wanted to meet Ryan and (his wife and dance partner) Jenny Thomas. I’d never seen them in person, only on film. So we went out to a club and Ryan invited me to dance.” Taylor-Corbett laughs again at the memory and recalls, “I’m sure I was just the funniest thing that anyone ever saw. I’m sure it was just like an apache.” She sobers up and earnestly states, “To do a real lead-follow is a great art form that I respect very much but cannot personally do.” She pauses and grins again. “But that was really, quite a wild five minutes. And very exhilarating, I must say.”
Anxious to stomp their feet on the boards of Broadway, aspiring choreographers often approach Taylor-Corbett for advice. “I say I will tell you what I did, but I will promise you it’s a different world than the one that you are competing in I always encourage people to diversify. I really made it my business to learn about the whole industry. When I was a young choreographer because I could do commercials and I could do concert work, I was able to hang in there.” Taylor-Corbett falls silent for a moment and then continues. “I think everything teaches you. A hamburger commercial teaches you something about the way a shot is set-up or an effective way to make something go across the screen,”
When Manhattan investors were not banking on Taylor-Corbett for their Broadway success, she turned to television. Commercials with the likes of Dana Carvey advertising American Express cards and Ray Charles singing the praises of Suntory beverages feature Taylor-Corbett’s fancy footwork. Even SESAME STREET has been honored by a visit and routine worked out especially for the resident Muppets by Taylor-Corbett.
With the exception of jobs like hatcheck girl for a Mafia club (“they were very nice to me”) as a newcomer to New York, Taylor-Corbett has never had to escape the clutches of corporate life like one of the characters in SWING who runs around trying to discard his briefcase for a little dance fun. Her dance card is always penciled in with choreography and directing work. In a field that promotes a Darwinian survival of the fittest, Taylor-Corbett sites her greatest accomplishment (besides rearing her International Relations Honor student son) as creative continuity. “Working in the field all these years I can’t think of one moment on an opera house stage that I could say exceeded the knowledge that I was going to be able to be what I wanted to be in this field.”
I thank Lynne Taylor-Corbett for her time and she rises to go to her next appointment – an audition for dancers for the road show of SWING. With her dancer’s posture accentuated by a deep burgundy tunic that reaches to the ground, the wonderful choreographer/director makes a regal exit from Sardis. As I watch her go through the door, I scribble in my notes: Lynne Taylor-Corbett really has danced her way to a very special room at the top of the castle.
All Rights Reserved Copyright Kim Knode July 2000
Kim Knode’s interview articles focusing on artists, celebrities and dance champions have been published in various print and on-line publications.