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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").
|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
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
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?