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Flash Overview, 3-15: Rite Of [False] Spring, Part 1
(A Backward Look at Paul Taylor's 2001 New York Season)

By Tom Patrick
Copyright 2001 Tom Patrick

So, dear readers, as we began hearing urgent warnings regarding the Storm of the Century two weeks ago, the Paul Taylor Dance Company was ascending into its 2001 City Center season regardless of climatic conditions in the out-of-doors. PTDC's City Center engagement -- one that many have long regarded as an annual harbinger of Spring -- will always make my adrenaline start pumping for so many reasons. There are usually new personnel involved, up for our first scrutiny; we are invited to muse upon the progress of other more senior dancers; there are revivals of older Taylor works to appreciate; and there are always a couple of new dances premiering in New York. Lots to chew on!

Since I attended many of the performances February 27 through March 11, I've been given the opportunity to break my long absence from writing with a few comments and reactions to this year's offerings (without the normal next-day-7 a.m. deadline). Not as a critic per se, just a very interested dancegoer with a lifelong investment in this company. Assuming the DI editors have the space, my slow typing and work schedule may necessitate this comes in installments....

So bear with me if I miss or omit something, and if I lean a little hard on some things and not enough on others, OK? Honestly, I could write on and on about the things revealed to me, the experiences glimpsed through the lens of PT's dances...but here I'll try for the most part to confine my comments to some impressions of the present....


There were two this season, neither brand new, but both new to New York audiences. 2000's "Fiends Angelical" (to the music of George Crumb, performed by the Kronos Quartet) gets going into oxymoronic territory from the utterance of the title. Appears to be that old bugaboo of good and evil co-existing, which can be quite unsettling sometimes, and a favorite theme of PT's to address. Duality within us and around us can be such a deep well, with layers of meaning beneath each glance or gesture, and I've noticed this seems to tug new efforts from Mr. Taylor regularly. Perhaps it preoccupies him as an artist, the nothing-is-black-or-white in us, or maybe he never feels he's quite nailed it.... I can't of course speculate too much about his real intentions, that's his story to tell (or not), but I am this year left wishing for some revelation on the subject.

I saw "Fiends" at least three times (and had last summer too, at its premiere as a commission for Jacob's Pillow) and no matter how I sliced it I still came up too conscious of the form and with no new insight on the content. The beginning is terribly compelling, with a horde of identical nightmare creatures bursting upon us. Creepy with the greenish skin-tones, the uniform reddish wigs, they dance gloriously, slamming the ground and slicing the air with raw energy and that trademark unison. There are wicked sequences of dance, real gutsy modern dance, primal energy. It is exciting in a way, an unforeseen detour down a tribal rabbit-hole, but then a sort of "story" intrudes.... The archetypes rise up from the group, and this I feel is where things lose momentum and focus in a big way.

After Patrick Corbin and Lisa Viola, choking one another, collapse to the ground in a heap at the end of an aggressive and spiky duet, an incongruous character enters. Silvia Nevjinsky, in a role created on Francie Huber, is clearly another sort of being, the only one in "Fiends" with any sort of declared gender, and perhaps the shaman-esse or oracle of this band of crazies. Though this Woman's choreography is given space and time (though none-too-much light), and Nevjinksy's dancing is clear and potent, the other participants seem to pay her no particular mind nor give her homage. Who IS she? What is she there to do? Why is she different? In the dance itself there is no real explanation, though the tide does seem to shift after her ferocious-yet-smooth opening dance.... Corbin and Viola resume their coupling, though it seems drained of the choreographic intensity. Their material has transisted to some sort of quasi-lyrical codependency, pretty curved arms, adagio sequences, and the piece begins to feel a little long. Long enough for me to start asking those questions: why have they shed those great themes and motifs?; how did this strange land merge into the familiar so?; who is that Woman? And, eventually: why am I getting these flashbacks of Cathy McCann as the Redemptress in 1988's "Speaking In Tongues," even to the degree of the same steps? The matriarch as soother, unifier? It is a bit unsatisfying, as a glimpse of worldview through those famously-blue eyes of PT, but let me tell you, this piece is a must-see for the passionate dancing. The cast is superbly strong and dynamic, slamming those contractions and hurtling through space as though they'd just been let out of cages. In that regard they shine always, though their roadmap through this hell seems so inconclusive.... Were we in then but out now? Still in? Never there??? Sometimes better not to ask..

My impressions of the new "Dandelion Wine" are not so ambiguous. Perhaps someday with absolutely nothing to do I'll look into that title's origins and connotations, but for now I'm content that it's one of those personal or arbitrary choices of Paul's that is his private joke. I found nothing amusing about the piece, and damn little that was even remotely interesting. Know ye, please, that this criticism is of the creation, not its dancers! They're just following orders, of course.

Curtain up on Richard Chen See clad in sleeveless bright yellow, cavorting self-importantly to the beautiful Pietro Locatelli music (Concerto No. 2 in C minor), looking for all the world like he's been teleported into City Center from some simultaneous ballet performance somewhere else. OK, I'll just wait and see where this goes.... Now enter other fresh-looking folks, all in white with color accents.... Nothing else yellow, it's gonna be one of those who's he/she? affairs. Well, this beautiful momentum-filled music keeps playing, and surge after surge of it passes over with such forgettable choreography it made me feel sad, not sunny at all. A lot of running and skipping through uninteresting patterns, chasses forever, lots of phrases truncated by planting and giving that spread-armed, smiling balletic gesture of "gosh, everything and everybody is wonderful!" Makes me think Mr. Taylor was warming up for his since-completed commission for American Ballet Theatre (stay tuned for that one, "Black Tuesday," when it hits New York @ the Met after a Kennedy Center premiere next month.) Well, hopefully not, as I found this material thin to the point of transparency, which in this case I don't mean as a compliment. My God, the music is teasing, soulful, rapturous, and endlessly ignored. I think it's a shame, given how intuitively this choreographer has apprehended classical and chamber music in the past. The piece's much-touted daisy-chain conclusion (NY press all swooned!) left me cold.... Not really very compelling after having seen some Balanchine myself, though Michael Trusnovic does a characteristically sinuous-and-interesting roll in-and-out there.

Again, the dancing is magnificent (particularly a trio for Orion Duckstein, Amy Young, and Julie Tice amidst all the cotton candy) but they can only do as well as the material here, and this one is far from a masterpiece, in my humble opinion....

To be continued...?


Tom Patrick has danced in New York since 1989, for ten years with the Paul Taylor Dance Company. To read more about Mr. Patrick, click here.

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