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Flash Review 2, 3-5: "Black Tuesday," Version Original
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 ago.

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 momentum.

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 7:30 p.m.

(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 and here.)

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