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2, 3-3: Taylor Manifesto
By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2000, Chris Dohse
Okay, I'm a big fat snob. I can barely tolerate sentimental;
I have no room for maudlin. And I disagree with history.
After receiving hate
mail for calling Paul Taylor's work facile, I doubted my judgment
and felt ashamed of my arrogance, so I decided to give him another
try. I don't mind being knocked down a peg, and I don't mind contradicting
myself. I've sat through two Taylor programs since then and read
parts of his autobiography, but I still don't get why Taylor has
been crowned his generation's preeminent dancemaker. Am I such a
bumpkin that I'm unable to recognize and appreciate what is obvious
to everyone else?
I find Taylor's dances
too glass-half-full. His world bears little relation to the messy,
fractious plurality I see around me. His damnable aplomb clashes
with my chip-on-the-shoulder Bohemianism.
I enjoy escapist entertainment
as much as the next guy, distractions from my foreboding reality.
That's what Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Jean-Claude Van Damme are
for. But when I watch modern dance, I want something heavy, man.
I want inexhaustible Gesamtkunstwerk that whoops me upside the head
and heart. With Taylor, I see craft of impeccable clarity and mastery,
but underneath the frolics and filigree I am left with merely a
vaguely pleasant feeling.
Last night's program
at City Center opened with 1983's "Sunset". The cast of
four women and six men looked as perfect as dolls on a wedding cake.
Their flirtations and entrances and exits and pairings and groupings
made Taylor's "Duet" the notorious 1957 piece in which
he did nothing, seem anomalous. And what about the drop-dead gorgeous
dancers? They're almost too good. All of the company inhabits Taylor's
style remarkably. They make it look effortless, like they could
do it in their sleep, or in the sleep of the guy sitting behind
me, who was soon snoring.
first intermission, the snorer, or someone near him, remarked that
Tayloräs choreography created a mood so "ephemeral and evanescent"
(or perhaps he said "effervescent"), that you don't care
what actually happens. Maybe that's exactly the quality that bugs
me. Taylor's material layers whimsy and sass on a refined architecture
and a rich, almost over-ripe muchness that overpowers the mechanics
of the phrasework. This breezy hauteur turns occasional pedestrian
elements into eyesores. You're left with a "feeling" of
what occurred, rather than specific memories. It's like remembering
aspects of someone's personality but not what they do for a living.
a New York premiere, combined the flat, angular silhouettes from
Etruscan pottery with frisky connecting steps and self-contained
sautes that didn't go anywhere. Jennifer Tipton gilded the dancers
in golden warmth. The score, fragments of Debussy, was much too
fancy for the likes of me.
In general I am unmoved
by virtuosity. Flaws and struggle enrich a performance. Why study
for a lifetime to look generic? Relative newcomer Michael Trusnovec's
dancing hinted at something more. His expressive torso awakened
the technical fluency and colossal presence common to Taylor men
Will I ever
develop the discernment to dig Paul Taylor? Our two aesthetics were
built during different decades, from different affections, but both
reflect valid art historical lineages. During La Belle Epoque, Naturalists
butted heads with Symbolists, Decadents and Nabis. Today, Queer
Nation flips the bird at Disneyfication. The schism is more complex
than "high" and "low" or uptown and downtown.
I do think the video version of "Speaking in Tongues"
is pretty cool, and Taylor's autobiography, "Private Domain,"
disarms me with its accomplished writing.
I realize I've
written more of a manifesto here than a review. I thank Mr. Taylor
for providing me the sand that I hope will, in time, become a pearl.
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