Vale Jonathan Taylor: remembering a giant of VCA Dance

Choreographer and educator Jonathan Taylor was appointed Dean of Dance at the Victorian College of the Arts in 1988, and worked at the College until 1997. VCA Dance lecturer Helen Herbertson remembers the former Artistic Director of Australian Dance Theatre, who died last week, aged 77.

By Helen Herbertson 

The dance community were deeply saddened to hear the news of Jonathan Taylor’s passing last week and our sincere condolences go to his extended family.

Jonathan made a significant contribution to the landscape of Australian Dance through his time as Artistic Director (1976–85) of Australian Dance Theatre (ADT) and his many choreographic works, including the iconic Wildstars, Flibbertigibbet and Transfigured Night.

Under his directorship, ADT forged an identity as a contemporary repertory ensemble touring regionally, nationally and internationally, engaging audiences with a signature mix of new choreography, stylish, full throttle dancing and innovative productions. The multitude of dancers and choreographers who worked with Jonathan were valued for their individuality and contribution, as were all those associated with the company – a dance family whose collective energy established a new era for ADT and dance in Australia.

Jonathan Taylor. Image Supplied.

As an artistic director, he was a great supporter of choreographers, offering opportunities to company and freelance choreographers to test their ideas, harnessing whatever was needed to enable that to happen and displaying a generosity for the growth in “new work”.

Many students remember ADT in residence at the VCA whenever the company toured to Melbourne. The excitement of watching classes and new work being rehearsed provided a valuable connection to the real world.

Jonathan was appointed as Dean of Dance at the VCA in 1988, and led the tertiary and secondary schools until 1997. Those who worked and trained through that time remember the camaraderie and playfulness he brought naturally to the practice of dancing, his delightful, generous sense of humour, and his canny, wise understanding of the big picture.

A man of large ideas with an energy and passion for dance, choreography and performance – whatever the form, Jonathan, in his era, forged a stronger contemporary identity for Dance at VCA which paralleled shifts in Dance in Australia at that time.

Jonathan Taylor with Associate Professor Jenny Kinder during the VCA Dance 40 celebration in 2018. By Drew Echberg.

Jonathan brought to his Australian experience the lens of an international outlook, with established dance connections worldwide and the lineage of his European dance roots (Rambert) providing access to the repertoire of many established choreographers and his own, to open up pathways for graduates into the dance profession across the globe. His generosity in forging connections within the field was well-known.

He led an internationally recognised staff and guest teachers within a wide range of dance studies, showcasing VCA Dance graduates in lengthy performance seasons at established venues, regional tours, and hosting industry events. His connection to the profession was a given.

Always a creative artist, Jonathan was ambitious to see that dedication and striving reflected not only in the high-level technical training of young performers but in his commitment to the learning to be found in the practice of performing, and in the communication of dance for audiences. His trust in the risk and determination required to push towards “something not yet made” guided his stewardship of Dance at the VCA, underpinned his philosophy at ADT, and was fostered during his time at Rambert.

His influence will live long and he will not be forgotten.


Banner image: Jonathan Taylor speaks at the VCA Dance 40 celebration at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2018. By Drew Echberg.