January 21, 2007

From sexy to sassy to
Shining Sea.



With their powerful thighs and boundless energy, Paul Taylor’s women seem more yang than yin. Then there’s Annmaria Mazzini. Her delicate features and physical abandon send a whiff of something different floating out to the audience. She wandered through the recent revival of From Sea to Shining Sea like a wayward time-traveling party girl, giving each vignette a hint of seductive nostalgia.


Taylor choreographed Shining Sea in 1965, and it had not been revived in decades. While time and history have lessened its bite, this sendup of American historical and pop culture icons remains a shrewd commentary on this country’s most self-serving impulses. As the piece begins, Superman (Robert Kleinendorf), clad in Mickey Mouse ears, strides onstage with his flapper girlfriend (Mazzini), both toting toy horns to announce America’s discovery. When she beats him to the toot, he throws her down to the floor. Even there, she continues tooting as the enraged Superman tries to silence her. “She just takes the wind out of that supermouse guy,” says Taylor chuckling.


“It’s typical of Paul’s twisted sense of humor,” says Mazzini. “Everything’s faked, so it’s all about timing. When Superman punches me in the stomach, I have to do a big contraction.” Molly Moore Reinhart, who first danced the role, coached her in the fine points. “I had to really practice the low notes on the horn,” Mazzini says. “The flapper’s been beaten up, so they needed to sound mournful and sick.”


Shining Sea
had Mazzini morphing from jazz baby to Southern belle to movie star (“I thought of Jean Harlow,” she says), with appropriate costume changes that took her back to her summer stock days. At 12, after seeing a performance of Cats in Philadelphia and falling in love with live theater, Mazzini started dance lessons at Frances Evers’ studio in Allentown, PA, near her family’s horse farm. By 16, she was getting small roles in summer productions like Carousel, and dreaming of a career in musicals.


She attended Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts, planning to focus on theater. Then one day in dance history class she watched a video of Taylor’s Last Look and Esplanade. “A switch went off in me,” she remembers. “I felt like he knew me, like he read my soul.” She dived into learning Taylor’s work, reading his autobiography Private Domain, and watching videos of Taylor classics night after night. In the summer of 1993 while still in college, she came to New York, clerked at an Express store, and took classes every morning at the company’s studios in Soho. “I felt my body had come home, like I was where I was supposed to be,” remembers Mazzini, now 33. After she graduated, she returned to the city, eventually landing a slot in Taylor II. In 1999, she joined the main company.


Like many Taylor pieces, From Sea to Shining Sea’s challenges lie in the details. At one point Mazzini, dressed in an oversized lacy gown, must waltz across the stage, gazing into a picture frame, then hugging it to her chest in a longing embrace. When she holds it above her head, the audience realizes it’s a mirror. Like many Taylor moments, the familiar gets upended with an ironic punchline. “She’s a young girl dressed up for a high school formal,” Taylor explains. “Maybe she’s the aspect of ego in America—ego isn’t necessarily bad.”


For Mazzini, though, it proved difficult. “It was hard to be sincere and make that work,” she remembers. “When I first looked in the frame I pretended that it was a soldier going to war, that he was my love, my sweetheart. I really try to lose myself in whatever we are doing. Sometimes I worry I go too far, I’m showing too much, but it comes from an honest place.”


Taylor describes Mazzini as a “miracle of the dance” with a note of wonder. “Annmaria’s an intense person, and she’s so committed to her dancing, to the second, the moment, in which she’s moving. I think she can do practically anything.”