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Flash Review, 3-1: Hearts & Weeds
Cloying "Valentine" from Paul Taylor

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2002 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- Paul Taylor Dance Company performed the New York premiere of "Antique Valentine" at City Center, seen on Wed. Feb. 27. "Valentine," though cloying, at least departed from the standard Taylor vocabulary, and its brevity helped to forge a shiny, if gaudy, bauble. A score comprising a variety of classical music performed on music boxes and a player piano set the tone for the wooden-jointed movement. The costumes by Santo Loquasto (who created costumes for all dances on this program) were an eyeful: candy-cane striped, with bonnets, boaters and spats.

Lisa Viola at once personified the balky, robot style while conveying a great depth of emotion, all with great humor. She and Patrick Corbin continue to be the most riveting dancers in the company, managing to interpret Taylor's vocabulary without over-muscling it, as some of the newer dancers seem to do. As a bumbling, betrothed couple, they performed a pratfall-filled courtship ritual that might have been overkill in less skilled hands. The three remaining couples took turns on the floor, waltzing stiltedly as the others posed in the corners. The dancers carved a circle with abbreviated leaps accompanied by tiny circular hand motions -- mini-Taylor. Taylor's keen eye for a tableau shone in opening and closing poses, like big bouquets.

This throwback to innocence managed to be somewhat endearing despite being tooth achingly-sweet. However, following "Dandelion Wine" on the program, "Valentine" was like death-by-chocolate. "Dandelion," which premiered last year, is a suite performed to Locatelli's "Concert No. 2 in C Minor." The dancers wore white costumes with colored accents, except for the athletic Richard Chen See, who wore yellow. (I doubt it was a factor in casting, but the four women were all blonde, making it look like some sort of weird family affair.) All wore forced smiles all the time. The movement was classic Taylor but on ballet steroids. In arabesque sautes, the men kicked their jumping leg forward, Lipizzaner-like. Although it was high energy, it distorted the naturally graceful line that makes Taylor's style so accessible. A closing section of mega-Twister finally broke the Stepford-like atmosphere, forcing the dancers into improbably awkward moments as they knotted themselves up, and yet they continued to try to shine their forced smiles at us.

"Speaking in Tongues," from 1988, countered the sweet factor with its heavy eponymous subject, based on the religious experience. Its near hour length stretched the dance thin, but Corbin, as the "Man of the Cloth," offered an intense acting performance to accompany his sharp dancing. His gaze pierced the audience, even as he stood stock-still in a doorway or on a chair. (Corbin was aided by Jennifer Tipton's atmospheric lighting; she designed lights for the entire program.) Michael Trusnovec was impressive, matching physical prowess with cat-light jumps, and Julie Tice performed with a terrific sense of purpose. In the end, I felt an uncomfortable disconnect in the segues between the lyrical phrases of choreography and the frenetic dramatic action, and the length detracted from its intensity. The score was "Music for Magnetic Tape" by Matthew Patton, a collage of sound and music.


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