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Flash Review 2, 3-5: "Black Tuesday,"
Paul Taylor: Breaking Down the Dancemaker
By Tom Patrick
Copyright 2002 Tom Patrick
NEW YORK -- Mercy, the myriad factors
an artist of Paul Taylor's stature is forced to consider when creating! Somewhere
in the mix is the simple and often-bypassed option of simply doing what one wants
to address, to follow one's own curiosity at a given time. But so many factors
do intrude: What will be programmed with the new work? How will tonal properties
(music, choreography, and design) affect the existing repertory? Are the right
personnel on hand to give interpretive life to the new work? Will a necessary
set or costumes prove effective, while still accommodating the budget, and will
they prove to be practical for touring constraints? Are the music royalties prohibitive,
or is permission-to-use even an option? (For an example of this, witness the problem
Eliot Feld had with the estate of Richard Strauss over the "Four Last Songs,"
which was ultimately danced to silence.)
But create he does -- Paul Taylor
does create. Every year he crafts two new works, premiering them here in New York
or in some other town, as in a commissioning situation, which was the genesis
for one of the pieces on Program B of the Paul Taylor Dance Company's annual season
(seen Thursday at City Center). Well, sort of.
One of Mr. Taylor's works from 2001,
"Black Tuesday," was a Kennedy Center commission for American Ballet Theatre,
with additional funding from other parties as well. But the interdependence doesn't
end there: Taylor's works, no matter who they are for (or whoever shall first
perform them) are first forged with, through, and on his own dancers, before being
transferred to other companies or dancers through senior representatives/stagers.
While this may seem a little labor intensive at first glance, the process has
stood Taylor & Co. in good stead, and is a testament to the value Paul places
on his dancers (and staff) as collaborative assistants. The result of this particular
arrangement last May was the premiere of "Black Tuesday" by ABT at the tony Metropolitan
Opera House. I was able to go, but my seat in the outer limits allowed only a
bird's-eye view of stage patterns (and of some very facile dancing, of course.)
The situation this year is that the
dance is back in NYC in the hands of The Real Original Cast, and the layout of
City Center is a great setting for seeing the extra amplitude of a Taylor dancer
in his or her element. The time it takes to assimilate PT's style -- the connections
and emphases, the changing stresses in musicality, that daring throw-and-catch
with the weight -- is extra time that most other performing groups don't have
when they are performing Taylor's work. In a repertory situation. (But on the
upside, the people setting these works -- Taylor's lieutenants -- are intimately
connected with the dances, highly prepped and very motivating. I daresay that
Ruth Andrien worked miracles on us when she came to set "Aureole" on the Cincinnati
Ballet. I'm eternally grateful, forever inspired by the experience.)
But on to the event at hand. "Black
Tuesday" really comes alive in the personages of the generators, the company on
which it was choreographed. Seeing ABT do it first was for me like seeing an advance
model of something, the prototype body of a soon-to-be-released new car. But seeing
the PTDC do it was the real deal. Beyond the scrupulously-rehearsed and technique-rich
others, there is that increased amplitude of the PT dancers, deeper into the floor
and with weight thrown daringly off balance -- the teasing of a musical pulse.
As far as the construction goes, "Black Tuesday" is mostly good solid stuff but
pretty workaday patterning, X's and O's for the group sections. Setting dances
to these old songs, whose lyrics provide all the irony a body needs (when you
consider the nation's plight at the time: The "Great" Depression, which began
by-the-by an exact nine months before Paul Taylor's birth), but are also structurally
pretty standard may seem to take a toll on the arc and phrasing of the sections.
It's a pretty straightforward suite, whereby a new song usually ushers forward
a new character study from these Unfortunates -- though savvy transitions are
helpful in chasing away the sense that the dance is a series of divertissements.
Favorite parts? Wow, there's so much
good dancing, and it's not so cut-and-dry as choosing a section. Fleeting brilliance
sparks up everywhere. The treatment of the material by the entire cast is admirable,
and the dancers look like they're having the best time possible, considering the
context there underneath the arches. There's a great bouncy duet for Richard Chen
See and the terrific Maureen Mansfield. I loved "Slummin' on Park Avenue," as
Takehiro Ueyama flips Kristi Egtvedt in an engaging fantasy night out. Silvia
Nevjinsky shines in a solo, "Sittin' On a Rubbish Can," which finds her expectantly
encumbered but kicking up her heels and making the best of her, um, situation’
-- witty, engaging, and fluent. "Are You Making Any Money" is a deliciously ironic
leer at the oldest profession, a very funny character-study for Orion Duckstein,
Annmaria Mazzini, Amy Young (who is a wonderful dancer and actress too, though
underused, in my humble opinion), and Julie Tice. Ms. Mazzini breaks away for
her own torch-song, passionately danced, though I think it's marred by the intervention
of a gang of men, just when she might get cooking. Lisa Viola really tears up
the linoleum scooting around as a tomboy, making her own rules (with a nice shooting-gallery
reference here to Fred Astaire films, emblematic of the elegant escapism that
Hollywood fed to Depression-era America.) Patrick Corbin at last steps forward
from the group in the final section, a solo to the heartbreaking "Brother Can
You Spare a Dime?" It is a sobering moment, as the mist of those happier songs
dissipates and we are reminded of those very hard times three-quarters of a century
Costumes/Set: A total triumph for
Santo Loquasto, displaying each of the dancers as individuals, smartly dressed
but very worn-at-the-cuff. The distressed clothes are nevertheless beautiful and
also integral to characterizations. Simply marvelous! The set -- which is a changing
backdrop, first an under-the-El-train view, then a night cityscape, then a beautiful
field of stars -- is far beyond what backs up most dance works, and is crucial
to the conceit of the piece. Bravo, Santo. Loved the sock garters on Rob Kleinendorst,
the peeling shirtfront and blown-out top hat.
Lights: Jennifer Tipton is, once
again, so successful that her work's subtle integration into the dancing makes
it at once barely noticed and yet indispensable. Until the final cue, that is,
as the music dies out and the performers stretch forth their hands to us, beseechingly,
through a blatant and searing shaft of light, an intense image that can really
be a visual subtitle for the whole darn thing. More blatant than usual, and perfectly
placed, it provides the ultimate ending for "Black Tuesday."
Arden Court (1981) began the program,
and I knew from its majestic opening diagonal that this cast is up to the task.
Boyce's music ignites these dancers as they tear into this classic, male-heavy
work, a beautiful marriage with Taylor's lyrical side. Powerful, exuberant, with
studly guys, quicksilver women, and gorgeous lighting, this one still packs the
punch, the sparkle and excitement. It enlivens the space onstage, and the choreography
really covers ground! It is this successful aspect of this piece that raises the
standards for others, and establishes some sort of benchmark for the style of
Paul's work: bodies hungry to move, and using all the real estate available. After
a bright and robust opening male sextet, "Arden" is a series of duets highlighting
attention paid and unpaid. Great dancing all the way through, to be sure. I'm
happy to see Andy Lebeau, who'd been sidelined by injury, is back in a big way,
and really tearing it up. Michael Trusnovic fills a void in a later duet (with
the regal Heather Berest,) that has been a tough-spot in the casting for years
up to now. Clearly, MT can do just about anything, and improves whatever he touches.
Truly, this guy is onto something.
Counterswarm (1988), the middle piece
of Program B, is weird, and holds a certain satisfaction to watch, more so than
to perform. In my experience: My first encounter with the piece held curiosity,
but the vets were largely over it. My next revival, I might be heard saying "Ugh,
what for? Who wants to see it? Grrr!" And now, from the other side, I'm quite
surprised to enjoy it a lot, even repeatedly. Not that I've forgotten the dancing
with heads down all the time, the impossible unison parts with rhythm-free music,
the weird pretzelling moves and postures. But now I can see why. It's a terrifically
exotic piece, full of juicy moves and beautifully sculptural opportunities. The
craft of it is solid-state, chock-full of interesting movement themes and good
Two groups, the Purples and the Reds
(in sexy costumes from Loquasto again, saturated colors and all the trimmings,
literally) show us the beautiful and cruel pageant of the insect world that has
fascinated Mr. Taylor since boyhood. Against the backdrop of Gyorgy Ligeti's tense
music the cast of 15 stalk, fly, hunt and mate, within and without their "species."
Is this not Microsociety? A God's-eye view of civil codes in clans, genders, races?
Or is "Counterswarm" simply another representation of the potential imbalance
arising from any duality -- which is, once again, a favorite mine of Taylor's
to explore or exploit.. I really enjoy the quirky mating dance of Ms. Mazzini
and Mr. Trusnovic, as well as Trus's later solo. There's not really much of an
"ending" to "Counterswarm, but I really enjoyed seeing it, and don't hold that
factor against PT. Perhaps he was indicating that there IS no ending, only installments,
chapters, and glimpses....
And with that in mind, this Flash
Review of PTDC's Program B is, um, over.
The Paul Taylor Dance Company appears
for another week in NYC's City Center Theater, 55th Street in Manhattan. Program
B repeats Wednesday and Friday at 8 p.m., and then on closing night, Sunday, at
(Editor's notes: Tom Patrick was
a member of the Paul Taylor Dance Company for ten years. To read two reviews of
ABT's performances of "Black Tuesday," click here
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