Paul Taylor Dance Company

February 28, 2006

Paul Taylor Dance Company
New York City Center, NYC

February 28–March 19, 2006

Reviewed by Susan Yung


The Paul Taylor Dance Company has been around long enough that it might consider marking its anniversaries with roman numerals. In its 51st season, at City Center, the troupe gave audiences multiple reasons to rejoice. The season’s two New York premieres fit within the light and dark dualities commonly (if not neatly) used to describe Taylor’s oeuvre. While neither redefined his work on a grand scale, each expanded its extremes of light and dark. But whether lyrical or dramatic, a choreographer’s work is only as good as its interpreters, and his fine company showed off the premieres—plus 16 dances from repertoire—to great effect.

The aptly titled Spring Rounds tossed out bouquets of pleasure. As much a maypole gathering as a dance, it exuded the courtliness of another era. The cast of 14 revolved—at times, literally—around the elegant Sean Mahoney and Lisa Viola, who seemed delighted to oversee this convivial retinue. An amorous delirium enshrouded them, evident as they sweetly lay their heads on each other’s laps. Pairs of men performed a primitive ritual—butting heads, they circled one another, evoking the kind of outdoor games that herald the fertile season. Darting solos punctuated the swirling pairs, trios, and lines. Strauss’ intriguing score, Divertimento (Opus 68) after Couperin, evoked a range of musical styles, from early music to a woozy romanticism. Santo Loquasto contributed corseted and beplumed costumes of lemon and lime. His designs’ ornate flourishes and sophisticated tailoring, as usual, echoed Taylor’s penchant for making serious works of theater.

Now to the dark side—Banquet of Vultures, showcasing the incomparable Michael Trusnovec. Taylor created for him a terrifying physical character study of evil, an executive-suited raptor with the stomach to lead troops to war and kill when necessary. Atypically for Taylor, the movement did not match the strident, nervous score by Morton Feldman. Jennifer Tipton’s lighting barely rose to murky after the opening scene’s scattered votives were extinguished. Trusnovec, a pale phantasm, glided toward a trio of soldiers that was writhing like Laocoon and sons. He stamped his heels menacingly, evoking a spiritual predecessor: Death, in Jooss’ Green Table. The platoons—in Loquasto’s camo fatigues and netting headgear—ran around him frantically, colliding, battling the enemy and themselves.

Trusnovec’s role demonstrated his stealth and precision, along with the immeasurable eloquence he brings to Taylor’s work. His forceful stage presence was particularly evident when he stood with his wrists crossed over his heart; surrounded by soldiers and basking in chalk-white light, he gazed heavenward. After killing with blunt force Julie Tice (in a moving portrayal of a Cindy Sheehan type), he departed. But Robert Kleinendorst succeeded him, indicating that one reign may end but another begins.

Compared to many of Taylor’s works, Banquet felt incomplete, but it was a brilliant vehicle for Trusnovec, who has been with the company since 1998. In the past few years, as he’s assumed more lead roles, he has emerged as one of modern’s finest interpreters. Technically astonishing, he never overdoes or distorts a movement. He has the gravitas to inhabit dark roles, yet he charms in comic turns. And he is sublime in romantic duets, as with Annmaria Mazzini in Cascade—tracking her scent with his whole body rather than gazing at her adoringly. He constantly rewards viewers with profound readings of the simplest gestures. In Promethean Fire (which has lost none of its formidable beauty since 2002) he has made the lead male role his own, balancing stoic strength with richly textured details.

Other fine company members include Parisa Khobdeh in Brandenburgs, her solo peppered with powerful yet relaxed extensions and layouts. Mazzini, a lush and generous dancer, is always fully invested in every performance. Viola remains the queen of comedy—even her slightly goofy expressions elicit guffaws, and she is dynamic in lyrical and serious roles, particularly in Esplanade and Promethean Fire. Richard Chen See’s range of movement seems limited by his musculature, but his mere presence commands attention. Heather Berest’s balletic poise is unusual for Taylor’s company; she will be missed when she retires next season. And yet, as we learned in Banquet of Vultures, the cycle continues, particularly in hands this capable. See