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Flash Review 1, 3-2: Art for Art's Sake
Taylor Gives a Schooling

By Ben Munisteri
Copyright 2000 Ben Munisteri

Modern Dance, in my recent experience, seems increasingly to be viewed only as a good part of children's education. Or it is valued only if it functions as part of beneficent, community-based programs with quantitative measures, so that its very existence can be justified as a means toward achieving better public policy or maybe research on learning skills. How refreshing and vital it was last night, therefore, to see the Paul Taylor Dance Company--without explanation or apology--put Modern Dance squarely in the realm of art.

It's an arcane realm where beauty is often scary and meaning must be intuited. I have been going to Paul Taylor concerts for more than ten years, and I'm not sure I have ever seen his company (or any dance company for that matter) look so strong or Taylor look so brilliant as it did at City Center Wednesday.

Last night's New York premiere, "Cascade," is composed of stuff that will be familiar to Taylor audiences: Groups of dancers race and soar in those weighty, archetypal Tayloresque curves and leaps to J.S. Bach accompaniment. It is ferociously beautiful and brilliant. This piece is so compositionally and musically sophisticated (sometimes by virtue of being simple) I don't think there is a choreographer alive who can accomplish the same effect. (Yes, that sounds like hyperbole but I'm being sincere.) It's like if you took the most inspired parts of "Esplanade," "A Musical Offering," and "Aureole" (I know -- it's Handel) and imagined improving them and compiling them into a new dance.

In this piece, the dancers WORK (add appropriate finger snaps here). Especially notable is the Presto section for five men (featuring an extraordinary Andrew Asnes), where Taylor borrows ballet's petite allegro but alters it to fit his style: a flexed foot, a bent knee, parallel instead of turned-out. The result is thrilling. Also, Francie Huber's Largo is so breathtaking I could barely keep myself quiet.

In "Lost, Found and Lost," (1982) the audience tittered not unlike children who hear a strange-sounding word for the first time and giggle because it sounds silly. Or maybe the audience finds it easier to laugh at something they don't understand and therefore find threatening. My contempt for audiences aside ( I suppose there were a few comic moments), this is a weird and wonderful piece. Heavily orchestrated, slow songs like "As Time Goes By" and "Laura" featured cloying and overbearing strings, which reminded me of elevator music from my childhood. As if trapped in a white-hot limbo, the dancers-- dressed and veiled in black--wait on slow-moving lines, shift their weight from one foot to another, hop up and down, and briefly go berserk. This is a very strange place. I found it totally fascinating and a little scary--like the landscape of a bizarre dream whose meaning feels important but is nonetheless completely elusive. I marveled that Taylor managed to put onstage such an inexplicable and unconscious experience.

The program concluded with "Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal)" (1981). I have seen this piece at least once before, but tonight I think I got it. Once again, the dancers delivered powerful clarity and technical prowess: a duet for Asnes and Lisa Viola was, well, perfect. And although the audience laughed again at the hieroglyphic choreography and the abstracted portrayals of running and fighting, they could not chuckle at Viola's astonishing and grief-stricken solo for her murdered infant. In his book "The White Goddess," Robert Graves wrote that the presence of the muse is "the reason why the hairs stand on end, the eyes water, the throat is constricted, the skin crawls and a shiver runs down the spine." As Viola danced, I felt the muse in my body, and I remembered why I'm in this business.

(Editor's note: Ben Munisteri is a choreographer and dancer and director of his own company. You can contact Ben at editorial@danceinsider.com, and find out more about his company at http://www.munisteri.com/)

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