Along Came Mary

Notes for A Eulogy

(for Mary Cochran’s Memorial, at the Paul Taylor Studio, January 13, 2018, with the dancers in the room in mind)

It is an honor to be among you, though it would be so much better for me if you were up here, I were out there....Rather the way it has felt as time has gone by and I’ve seen you dancers retire from the company one by one, and then return as part of the audience. There you would be—not only nearby in the house, but also in my mind’s eye still on stage, dancing underneath the dancers who filled your roles: layers and layers of you, like traces of earlier paintings underneath a finished canvas, right back to the divine originals Paul Taylor made the work on.

 And so it was when lovely lyrical Lila York departed Taylor's stage, leaving her beautiful shadow yearning into the wings in"Arden Court," and along came Mary.  Another of that type Paul christened "the runt," but this time a soubrette—so like Colette Colbert, that charmer of an earlier time and medium. So perfect in "Offenbach Overtures" as a can-can dancer. And so too, the very embodiment of Shakespeare’s most spirited runt, Kate. Though she be but little, she is fierce. Fierce and funny, as in "Funny Papers." "Sorcerer’s Sofa."  So many wonderful roles.

Ironically, she was adored by many in a part she told me she hated. "I stood in the wings dreading it every single time," she said to me about "Rum and Coca-Cola." But she nonetheless sashayed out from the wings with that smile and that verve, the consummate professional. That's something I saw in all of you when I visited the studio—there you’d be clowning around— Mary and Joe Bowie doing Graham moves on their knees!—stretching, chatting, packing away snacks and sweats and water. At ease, informal. Then your choreographer joined you and lit his cigarette, the smoke curled upward, and Bettie cued the music. You stood on the edge of the marley—your studio stage—finding your centers—slight contraction just at the join of the rib cage lifting you back, and up— and your faces changed along with your bodies. You were not just dancing the steps, you were taking on the Taylor persona. This was not without nuance. Nor was Mary without critique. And so it was in"Company B.The dark was there—that undertone—just like the lining of her skirt.

One day, I went to see Paul after he’d come back from seeing Jeff Wadlington—golden, handsome Jeff, who was dying, as Chris Gillis did, as did so many then. “I just think it’s the right thing to do, when someone’s leaving,” Paul said to me. “You go and say goodbye.” That’s not something you got to do with Mary. So we’re here today to try to do that. To hold her close, or to let her go, perhaps to sense a trace of her sparking free across the sky, a bright flash. Off stage.

You know that place in "Sunset"—where the women are both girls and angels—and we—your audience—sense impending loss? Darkness falls. The music—that plangent Elgar—stops. Nature takes over. Dusk, the cries of loons. A fallen dancer crawls away towards a central grouping. And then, in the next scene, the lights brighten, and we’re in heaven. 

That’s where you took us, Mary, when you were dancing. When you closed down "Esplanade" by inviting us all into the dance, and ended with a beginning. You made watching feel like doing. We all loved you so.

Esplanade,  1973  photo:Bob Shomler