Interview: Maya Taylor, Choreographer
By: Cassandra Litten
Maya Taylor has been dancing practically since she was born. But it wasn't until the last decade that she ventured into choreography, placing herself behind the scenes to create and direct other dancers, blessing the world with her signature flowing movements on an even grander scale.
We spoke with her following the release of Solange's visual album When I Get Home, which Maya helped choreograph.
[Cassandra Litten] How long have you been dancing? When did you decide to pursue choreography?
[Maya Taylor] I have been dancing since I was 2 years old. My mom was a dancer and my first teacher, so I was basically attached at her hip or running around the dance studio since I can remember. My first love is dance and I've always been incredible infatuated by the energy it produces in the studio and onstage.
Choreography came into my life much later. I started choreographing about 9 years ago. Josie Metal-Corbin, former director of The Moving Company in Omaha, Nebraska, asked me to create a piece for a group of dancers when I was back in my hometown for a bit. I was very intimidated at first, because I had a lot of trouble with my choreography and improv classes when I was getting my degree from the Ailey/Fordham BFA program. I really didn't think I was going to be able to do it! However, I started to let go of my fear when I found the music, got into the space with the dancers, and just kept working on creating. Choreography is always one giant puzzle to me, and it is so satisfying when all the pieces snap together to fit!
[c.l.] You’ve worked on some pretty big projects and with some big names - TNT’s Claws, Arcade Fire, St. Vincent, and, of course, Solange. What’s one of your most memorable experiences?
[m.t.] Probably when I got the call to create something for St. Vincent's 2017 Ellen performance of "Los Ageless". I was staying in LA for a month and the first four days into my trip, someone from her team reached out to me asking if I was available. I remember looking around being like "Is this for real?? St. Vincent?!! On Ellen?!" I couldn't believe it, but didn't have time to dwell because I had to start finding the dancers and creating right away. The process with Annie was just incredible. She gave me so much freedom with the movement and we had a lot of fun making something a littler bit darker for her Ellen performance.
[c.l.] What exactly did you do for Solange’s When I Get Home? Was it hard to keep that project under wraps?
[m.t.] I created some of the cast choreography for When I Get Home and helped Solange with movement direction for the choreography she created for her solo performances. She created an incredible inspiration deck for the shoot, so when she wanted certain scenes with movement she would reference different images for me to work from.
It wasn't hard to keep the film under wraps at all. We all felt how special the film and the album were going to be once they were released and didn't want to ruin the surprise element to the project.
[c.l.] This isn’t the first time you’ve worked with Solange. How did that get started?
[m.t.] My first time working with Solange was for her video for Don't Touch My Hair. We had met in New Orleans a few years prior, so I was very excited to work on the video. From there, she brought me in to help movement direct various tour performances, and one of my favorite things she's ever created, her "Scales" (Marfa) performance.
[c.l.] Can you talk a little bit about the other people you worked with on When I Get Home?
[m.t.] The collaborators on When I Get Home were some of the most talented people I have ever worked with. From styling, to hair, to make-up, to art direction. Everyone brought their A-game over the few weeks of shooting and I loved observing and getting to know each of them. We became a family by the last day as you do working that closely together. I would have to say out of everyone, it was incredible to see fellow choreographer and genius formation creator, Andrew Winghart, work his magic on his rodeo choreography.
[c.l.] Any upcoming projects you want to talk about?
[m.t.] I have been creating choreography for the new season of Claws. If you haven't watched the show on TNT yet, what are you waiting for??? I absolutely love working on the show, and created a big dance number for the first episode of the season. I'm also really really excited about the release of The Dirt on Netflix, which comes out March 22nd. It's the absolutely insane story of Motley Crüe directed by Jeff Tremaine, and was my first time working on a feature film. I can't wait for everyone to see it!
[c.l.] Finally, what’s something you wish you could tell your younger self? What advice do you have for young dancers?
[m.t.] I would tell my younger self... Never ever stop pursuing what you love and what you know you are good at. You are going to have people tell you to change career paths in your life, but stick with dance. It will be challenging, but it will take you places you never dreamed of.
For younger dancers... Show up early, stay late, be open to constructive criticism, and never ever stop learning from class and from life experiences. Put it all into your art. It will help your dancing immensely. Also, the dance world is way smaller than you think so always be respectful and kind to every teacher, director, choreographer, musician, lighting director, etc., but especially to your peers. You never know who is going to be sitting behind the table doing the hiring one day and it's important that your name carries a good reputation throughout this very small industry.
For more information on Maya and her work, check out her website: www.mayataylor.com or follow her on Instagram: @mayaalexis