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Letter from New York, 3-28: I can dream... Can I?
Streams of Repertory from Paul Taylor

By Harris Green
Copyright 2008 Harris Green
Photography by Lois Greenfield and Tom Caravaglia

Describing Paul Taylor's City Center season (February 28 - March 16) as a "dream" was more than hyperventilating press agentry. Among the 19 dances presented were several that many admirers probably had dreamed about seeing again, such as "Equinox" (1983) and "Diggity" (1978). Dreams were at the heart of the two novelties on Mexican themes, both created in 2007: "De Sueños" ("Of Dreams") and "De Sueños que se Repiten" ("Of Recurring Dreams").

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A dancemaker's classic: The retiring Lisa Viola, in anything but a retiring pose, for Paul Taylor's "Dante Variations." Lois Greenfield photo copyright Lois Greenfield and courtesy Paul Taylor Dance Company.

For admirers of senior company member Lisa Viola, the next to last performance of the season must have been a dream come true. As the entire company came forward to take their bows after a particularly mesmerizing performance of "Promethean Fire" (2002), Viola was the astonished target of the first bouquet I've ever seen hurled at a Paul Taylor dancer. Aside from a slight loss of elevation, she remains a compact embodiment of high energy, antic wit, and supple daring, yet she has decided to retire. Had she been a ballet dancer with equivalent artistry (and longer legs), City Center would have had to bring in an NYC Sanitation Dept. crew to clean up the litter her retirement would have triggered.

This overview of Taylor's oeuvre offered an opportunity to compare and contrast dances made between 1962 and 2007. While it could be futile, not to say foolhardy, to try to pin down so protean an artist, it does seem that Taylor often does his best work using one score (or one composer). An unfortunate exception, "Fiends Angelical" (2000), matched George Crumb's keening score all too well. (Santo Loquasto's rugged setting partially redeemed the occasion.) A positive exception to that apercu is the multi-scored, one-of-a-kind masterpiece, "Cloven Kingdom" (1976). But then there was the overly long "Antique Valentine" (2001), with the company -- in boots, by the way -- making like mechanical dolls to the tinny accompaniment of music boxes and a mechanical organ playing popular classics. Including Schubert's "Ave Maria" in the mix was a cheeky inspiration, but it wasn't enough. The season offered three masterpieces set to Bach, foremost among them the company's signature piece, "Esplanade" (1975). This season I came closer than ever to sharing the dancers' headlong delight in this potpourri of movements from keyboard and violin concertos -- until the supine, superb Michael Trusnovec was stepped on during the same music Balanchine put to better use as the pas de deux in "Concerto Barocco." No, I think not.

More daring and more demanding was "Musical Offering" (1986). On first viewing, its neo-Minoan costumes were puzzling and the frequent use of a stiff-legged swaying stance annoying. Once the shock wears off, however, Taylor oddities often repay second and third looks. This time around the constant flow of kinetic invention now seemed a mirror of Bach's ever-shifting counterpoint. (This marvelous company's command of its intricacies shouldn't have come as a surprise.) As a reward for the attention 'Offering' demanded, Taylor cannily flanked it with light-hearted fare on every program in which it appeared. "Le Grand Puppetier," for example, has no other connection to puppetry than its score: Stravinsky's "Petrouchka," brought down to earth by being pounded out on a player piano. (Company newcomer Francisco Graciano, billed as a Puppet, twitched superbly but he was on a leash, not strings.) "Promethean Fire" concluded every performance when it was given. What could follow a dance, struck off in white heat after 9/11, that grows in power as political exploitation increasingly capitalizes on and cheapens the catastrophe? 'Fire' leaves one in awe at choreography on such a grand scale. Musical purists may object that Taylor used recordings of three fulsome Leopold Stokowski arrangements for this solemn occasion. Frankly, I have no patience with anyone who would remain unmoved as the pile of dancers began to stir, just because the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor was sounding like the early twentieth instead of the early eighteenth century.


The stuff that dreams are made of: Laura Halzack in Paul Taylor's "De Sueños." Tom Caravaglia photo copyright Tom Caravaglia and courtesy Paul Taylor Dance Company.

All right, I've put it off long enough. The two "Sueños" ballets are set to a grabbag of Mexican music and employ an equally jumbled set of images. Trusnovec called up fond memories of Ballet Folklorico de Mexico by wearing a set of antlers and little else. (He was eventually shot onstage.) Richard Chen See, a chillimgly formal, norteamericano image of death -- a derby, dark glasses, a swallow-tail coat, striped pants -- manages to wipe out the cast by passing among them in part two. Laura Halzack, gloriously costumed in the style of a provincial statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe, enters from the opposite direction to bring them back to life. Deliberately comic inventions include a Mexican hat dance that leaves the hat a wreck, a flower girl who's allergic to her wares, and a pregnant slut who alarms the bravo moving in on her by giving birth to the child while standing up. He reacts by trying to shove the little fella back up under her skirt. Well, maybe it's not so funny. Quotes about dreams from Carl Jung are included in the Playbill. These are no help and I'm not repeating either.

Will a third viewing of part one and second of part two next season win me over? I know Loquasto's designs and Jennifer Tipton's lighting can gain in power. Some dancers -- Trusnovec, Annmaria Mazzini, Robert Kleinendorst, Julie Tice -- probably can't be better. Eran Bugge, Sean Mahoney, James Samson, Orion Duckstein, and Parisa Khobdeh continue to make great strides. Well, maybe I am beginning to anticipate my next encounter, but as Patty Andrews sang in "Company B," I can dream, can't I?


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