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Flash Review 1, 3-7: The Alchemist's Taylor
In the Choreographic Kitchen with the Sorcerer

By Tom Patrick
Copyright 2002 Tom Patrick

NEW YORK -- The Paul Taylor Dance Company's third City Center repertory program, C, seen Friday, is a quadruple bill of revivals, a nice overview of some of the choreographic faces of The Old Master.

Leading off the evening, we had "The Sorcerer's Sofa," in its first revival since the original cast bowed (1989-90.) Wow, time flies. This piece was my first choreographic experience with Paul after joining the company in mid-'89(I originated the role of the "Client, a gynephobic.") Now, it's a revival (I write, while leaning on my cane and chewing my soft food, har har.) Depending on your mood, you can look at this dance as a bit of cartoon -- after all, the music and the libretto basically come intact from Mickey's Sorcerer bit in "Fantasia" -- or as pseudo-psychological insight. I tried then, in '89, to approach it as the latter, but that side of it is really all tied up with Paul's private self, his alter-ego George Tacet, and a curious fascination with the "science" of phrenology.

This week I watched amused, for the piece seems laden with jokes. I loved the triumphal dance of the Sorcerer and Client -- Orion Duckstein and Rob Kleinendorst, respectively -- after they have vanquished (they think) The Devil Within (Kristi Egtvedt.) Taylor has them all puffed up and stiff-walking around, harkening back to Jason in Graham's "Cave Of The Heart." An interesting note: "The Sorcerer's Sofa" has the title character -- Julie Tice now (the inimitable Mary Cochran then) -- en pointe, a first for the company I think. Strange, though, that her shoes are pink this time, as opposed to matching the primary-blue of her costume as they did before. (I remember the blue dye soaking into Mary's feet!) The color palette here (costume and set by Santo Loquasto) is all the primary colors, red/blue/yellow, with gray for the Sorcerer, who sports about six feet of shaggy beard and a bumpy head. The whole thing is pretty blatant, campy good fun, and I laughed aloud a lot, in spite of myself.

Following a minute's pause, we were treated to a rarity in Taylor programming: an excerpt! "White Roses Duet" (1985) might seem familiar as the "white duet from 'Roses'," the amalgamation (?) of that piece's five couples' exploration of love. In that work (the yin to the yang of 1985's other premiere, the searing and violent "Last Look,") the ensemble couples recline in the background as an unforeseen pair enter for the ultimate duet. In the present context, the couple is alone onstage, all in white (costumes are by William Ivey Long) on a white dance floor. Cool lights on the space and backdrop (Jennifer Tipton magic again) lend an air that avoids the temptation toward sentimentality and frames this dance as a highly evolved, Apollonian vision of love. Performing this jewel are two jewels in Mr. Taylor's crown, Silvia Nevjinsky and Patrick Corbin. They enter together, serenely; they face each other and touch hands, gently and softly taking the most simple of steps; they part, and they circle each other, always returning with a pull of unseen magnetism. The dance is not exactly austere or cold, but rather economical, pared-down -- love distilled beyond big fancy demonstrations, down to the essence of Connection. Ms. Nevjinsky is really stunning here, with easy extensions in the appropriate spots and a gorgeous willowy quality to her torso and arms throughout. In the great Taylor tradition, she is steel wrapped in velvet. As her consort, Corbin was giving and strong simultaneously, and an attentive partner. Far from looking small or alone onstage, the two conveyed an air of privacy which I found touching. Afterward, the curtain rose on their bow to reveal them far upstage, which I found to be a beautiful moment: instead of a rush forward, they remain sort of back there, a society-of-two, and I loved it. The surge of buzz from the audience as the houselights came up afterward is proof that I wasn't the only one who was so impressed. I am so happy that it's being presented this way, and I hope that the company considers doing other such excerpts, as a means of bringing more versatile performance opportunities forth from the best from the eclectic Taylor repertory.

After that oasis, tour guide Taylor widens the temperature range by chilling and then taxing us with "The Word" (from 1998.) Against a powerful orchestral score, specially composed by David Israel, the cast of a dozen dancers hurtles and crawls through one battlefield after another, in a hierarchical war between ciphers (eleven of them are identically clad in Santo Loquasto's schoolboy knickers and ties, all groomed slick, with red red lips and shadowy eyes. Hey, come to think of it, it was a big night for duplicates with crimson lips!) Ms Tipton lends a spooky and unsettling atmosphere with the fluorescent tubes and some fascinating shadowplay on Mr. Loquasto's silky silver backdrop. "The Word" tends to evoke a lot -- I always think of stories by [I think] Aldous Huxley, about the conditions during Huxley's boarding school days -- and I don't believe it's meant to bring up feelings on the nice side. I've always sympathized with dancers in this one, since it demands a whole slew of episodes where the personnel wind into furious climaxes before yielding to sustained stillnesses or adagio passages. "The Word" can mean a lot of panting at the very least, and the music really does whip things up. The "subject matter" deals with the struggles for dominance and piety in a group, with strong overtones of an undeniable (and disappointing?) Authority. The cast is strong, and I particularly liked Heather Berest in solo of a woman bereft, as well as Andy Lebeau's opening solo, and James Samson. The group work is tight and committed-looking. As foil or protagonist, Lisa Viola portrays an odd character -- dressed in a sort of scaly green number, she is pinpoint sharp and malevolent, lording it over the others.

"Cloven Kingdom," from 1976, provides a more humanistic view on things, but we as human "social animals" still get the treatment through Paul Taylor's behavioral prism. High manners and low impulses propel the cast (in fancy dress) through increasingly complex and self-obsessed paths until their heads are encrusted in mirrors, reflecting ourselves back at us. The dancing is primo stuff, juicy phrases of lyricism blended with the grotesque and humorous. Loved Maureen Mansfield's swooping lame-duck turns in the waltz! The "Graces" are wonderful too: this female quartet, by turns blase or mysterious, seems a page ahead of the other folks onstage. Perhaps they are demigoddesses (well, just look at 'em!), nudging the male and female quartets to actually make contact. This is a thriller for the dancing, and tremendously infectious in its point of view -- a winner.

I liked the curating in this Program C. I found these dances tied together overall to provide much food for thought and an exhilarating kinetic experience.

My thanks to the company for taking good care of the work. Salut!

The Paul Taylor Dance Company continues through Sunday at City Center, 55th Street in Manhattan. Program C repeats Saturday at 2 p.m.

 

(Editor's Note: To read more reviews by Tom Patrick of the Paul Taylor Dance Company's last three New York seasons, please enter "Tom & Patrick & Taylor" in the search engine window on our Home page. To read Susan Yung's review of this season's first program, click here.)

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