Paul Taylor Dance Company

March 1, 2005

Paul Taylor Dance Company
City Center, New York, NY

March 1–20, 2005

Reviewed by Clive Barnes


The Paul Taylor Dance Company is recognizing its Golden Jubilee by appearing in all 50 states during its 2004–05 season. In New York it staged an impressive 19 ballets, including the New York premieres of Klezmerbluegrass and Dante Variations.

(2004), Taylor’s 121st creation, commissioned by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture to commemorate 350 years of Jewish life in America, is one of Taylor’s blithe delights. The clarinetist Margot Leverett, who played it live with the Klezmer Mountain Boys, has arranged a beguiling score from a mix of traditional klezmer and bluegrass music. Into the exultant whine of klezmer Leverett has incorporated the equally characteristic sound of hoedown country, and the result provides both a platform and background for Taylor’s dazzling, interweaving dancers. Led by Silvia Nevjinsky, Annmaria Mazzini, Michael Trusnovec, Julie Tice, and the ever-amazing Richard Chen See, they seem to be, in the appropriate words of Irving Berlin, “just doing what comes naturally.” Taylor has the dancers interlacing styles and cultures with giddy authority.

Dante Variations (2004)
is one of Taylor’s periodic excursions to the darker side of the soul, a place of bleak agony and contorted desperation. György Ligeti’s sonorous, sinisterly attractive score is perfect for Taylor’s purpose of bringing to grim life the Dante quotation from Inferno that he tags to the work: “These are the nearly soulless whose lives concluded neither blame nor praise.” This is the same epitaph he attached to his vividly satirical Scudorama in 1963. With Taylor, dances change more than attitudes.

The choreography of Dante Variations is, although more formal and particularized, similar to that in the horrific Last Look (which spotlighted with galvanic relish Richard Chen See, Michael Trusnovec, Lisa Viola, and Silvia Nevjinsky). The atmosphere and some of the groupings seemed to come from 19th-century artist John Flaxman’s famous illustrations of Dante’s works. When the dancers break away from a mass of roiling, writhing bodies, they are finally seen through Jennifer Tipton’s dramatic lighting to be wearing costumes by Santo Loquasto in slinky black emblazoned with gold swirls, like jazzy cobra skins.

The dancing—and, of course the choreography—has a kind of empty, blank-eyed vivacity to it. These are dances of the dead. When solos emerge from the fevered group—a woman with her arms tied behind her back, a man vainly trying to shake off a cloth tied to one foot, or another woman blindfolded—the feelings conveyed are as much of helplessness as doom, leaving an impression as hopeless as it is despairing. Taylor has rarely been more eloquently poetic in his despair.

This retrospective was a richly rewarding immersion in Taylor. First there was the exceptional quality of the current company. It is amazing how Taylor manages to replace dancers not with their replicas but with those of similar build, technique, and personality. Second, the large repertory presented an enormous logistical as well as artistic challenge to maintain standards of presentation and performance. The results were a triumph not just for Taylor but for the company’s longtime rehearsal director, Bettie de Jong. Finally, the season showed the incredible diversity of this choreographic spectrum we call Taylor.

A few works did not look as good as they have in the past, including Aureole, the 1962 samite-white masterpiece that first established Taylor as a major choreographer; the eccentrically brilliant 3 Epitaphs (1956); and that WWII Andrews Sisters fiesta, Company B (1991). But many have never looked better: the riotous Offenbach Overtures (1995); the evocatively sensual Piazzolla Caldera (1997); the gently seamless Eventide (1997); that wry song of the Depression years, Black Tuesday (2001); and such timeless classics as Esplanade (1975), Cloven Kingdom (1976), and Arden Court (1981).

I failed, as always, to make choreographic sense of the smoothly performed revival of Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal). And I consider Promethean Fire (2002) one of the greatest ballets ever to be set to J.S. Bach; however, the architectonically fantastic Musical Offering (1986) leaves me admiring but cold, as does the dryly brilliant, extraordinarily inventive Syzygy (1987).

A couple of the revivals seemed especially noteworthy. Funny Papers, a work created by the company in 1994 (“amended and combined” by Taylor), revealed newfound fun and gloss. And emerging with its blazing, dangerous fires undimmed was Big Bertha (1970), that horror anecdote of an all-American family led to unspeakable sexual violence by the fantastic, automated, eponymous doll of a band machine. It was chillingly well performed with Orion Duckstein, Heather Berest, and Mazzini as the doomed family. In his final season, Patrick Corbin (the first man to perform the role originally danced 35 years ago by De Jong) danced a fiendishly and splendidly implacable Bertha.

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