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Paul Taylor Dance Company
New York City Center, NYC
February 24–March 14, 2010
Reviewed by Gus Solomons jr
Julie Tice and Michelle Fleet in Brief Encounters. Photo by Tom Caravaglia, Courtesy PTDC.
Each time I anticipate seeing the Paul Taylor Dance Company, I think, “Uh-oh, that old pre-postmodern dance.” And each time I actually see his dances, I think, “What good choreography!” Taylor turned 80 this year and in celebration presented 18 works in his City Center season.
Seeing many of Taylor’s dances at once, you realize that he has a habit of establishing a community of people and dancing them through a series of semi-narrative episodes that take you on a journey of sorts. By the end you don’t necessarily know any more deeply about those folks you’ve just spent 25 minutes watching, but the trip has been kinetically and visually engrossing.
Spindrift (1993) features set and costumes by frequent collaborator Santo Loquasto—typically, shirtless men and mini-skirted women, and here, a projected skyscape. A romantic “Quartet Concerto (after Handel),” composed (surprisingly) by Schoenberg before he waxed atonal, accompanies it. The highlight is a solo for Michael Trusnovec, one of Taylor’s stars. Whether gliding across the ground, falling into it, or bounding into the air, his apparent ease and catlike grace are uncannily silken.
Runes (1975) reminds us of Taylor’s Martha Graham roots with its contractions and controlled falls. Here, a human body lies onstage that the dancers either ignore or not, as they streak across the space. Partners get replaced in the midst of duets, as though they were interchangeable ciphers. The ballet’s intent remains a puzzle, while its animal physicality seduces us.
A commissioned score by Donald York drives Syzygy (1987). Thirteen hyperactive denizens comprise this tribe, led by tiny firecracker Julie Tice, who alternates between balancing in a low back attitude pose and flying around like a maniac. Dancers' limbs flail and bodies vibrate in whizzing spins, reckless jetés, and all manner of fast-paced steps to fit the breakneck tempo of the music. The result is an opener (on the first night) that’s like an exhilarating shout and a program finale (in two subsequent shows) that tuckers out the dancers and brings the audience to its feet in tribute to their courage and stamina.
The New York premiere of Brief Encounters, set to Debussy’s haunting “Le Coin des Enfants” (The Children’s Corner) casts six men and five women as inhabitants of an inner sanctum at the end of a stone corridor, with costumes (black bikinis, scanty briefs) and backdrop again by Loquasto. An opening circle breaks into a series of leaping diagonal crosses, then solos and duets, interspersed with group comings and goings.
Taylor’s mastery of transitions is second to none. He employs airborne locomotive phrases that carry dancers through space with actual steps rather than just running into place. Ensembles and partners replace each other seamlessly. The mood here is playfully childlike, yet the lingerie-clad bodies—all beautifully athletic—imply grownup sensuality.
Public Domain (1968), however, looks like a fraternity party skit gone wild. To an assortment of musical snippets, the dancers, wearing unitards in spectrum colors, reference several dance styles—ballet, exhibition ballroom, Graham, folk dance. A woman in purple lies on the floor for a long time—a favorite Taylor device—then rises for a killer-difficult solo, balancing on one leg while extending the other. But despite its variety, Domain outwears its welcome.
On the other hand, the second NYC premiere this season, another of Taylor’s comedic pieces, scores. In Also Playing, a vaudeville olio in 15 brief acts, Taylor’s gags are more focused and concise than those of Domain four decades ago. In “Strip,” Eran Bugge removes her gloves with her teeth; Jamie Rae Walker has handkerchief issues in “Waltz” with Michael Apuzzo; Michelle Fleet gives Orion Duckstein as good a whippin’ as she gets in “Apache”; Tice’s dying swan in “Ballet” just won’t stay dead; and the Stagehand, Robert Kleinendorst, has to keep sweeping up debris—blossoms from “Garland Dance,” confetti from “March,” and assorted hats.