Paul Taylor Dance Company at City Center

On Sunday afternoon, I met my parents at City Center to see Paul Taylor Dance Company. After not making it to their 2007 season at this venue (at the time, my senior thesis was consuming my life), I was eager to attend a performance. This is a bit humorous considering that my first Taylor experience, when I was eleven or twelve, was very negative. My parents were certain that I, like them, would love the Taylor dancers and repertory. Unfortunately, I compared everything I saw to ballet, and clearly didn’t grasp that Taylor was a modern dance company. In my mind, the dancers looked like failed ballet dancers, with stiff upper bodies and poor turnout, who had stooped to modern dance, which I considered to be inferior to ballet (I no longer make such comparisons of different dance styles). My ignorance and close-mindedness appall me.

Since then, I learned about Paul Taylor in several college courses (and saw the wonderful film Paul Taylor: Dancemaker, which I highly recommend), saw Esplanade a few too many times – once at Fall For Dance Festival and a few times at the company’s City Center seasons, and took modern technique courses with Mary Cochran (a former Taylor dancer), where I learned some excerpts from Taylor works. As a result, I now greatly respect Mr. Taylor, his choreography, and his company, and am fully aware that none of the Taylor dancers “stooped to modern dance” or failed in any sense of the word when they joined the company.

(Amy Young and Robert Kleinendorst in Cloven Kingdom, photo by Tom Caravaglia)

 

Although I didn’t like everything I saw at Sunday’s performance, I appreciated and admired the dancers’ clean technique, articulation, and fluid movement quality. The program opened with Antique Valentine, a 2001 piece that looks funny on the surface, but has an underlying serious, sardonic message about love, marriage, and conformity. With renditions of Bach, Beethoven and other composers played on music boxes and mechanical organs, the five men and three women performed a variety of equally mechanical duets. Their faces were fixed, neither frowning nor smiling, for the majority of the piece, and their movement was sharp and stiff, making them look like wind-up soldiers or dolls. Each duet showed the dancers interacting in a very old-fashioned, traditional male-female situation: a man offering his handkerchief to a sad woman, or a man presenting a woman with a freshly picked flower. The mechanical, automatic quality in all of this suggested that these were forced relationships, with the individuals simply going through the motions, like puppets. In the closing scene, a couple wedded as the other couples rejoiced over this happy occasion. As they moved with even more stiffness, the message of anti-conformity was obvious. Antique Valentine is Taylor’s mockery of love and marriage.

De Sueños Que Se Repiten (Of Recurring Dreams) is a new piece that left me confused and indifferent. Its companion is De Sueños, Taylor’s other new work this season, which was not on Sunday’s program (Perhaps it’s better to keep them together). The opening was more like a nightmare than a dream, as eight masked dancers, dressed in black, stomped in unison and swarmed the stage while a man wearing a black suit and sunglasses – portraying Death – walked around menacingly. A blonde woman in a long white dress – clearly representing innocence – was barely noticeable before Death killed her. Meanwhile, a woman in a gold unitard and sparkly headpiece circled an antlered stag-man. The scene abruptly changed to a street in Mexico, where three couples appeared, one after the other, while the stag-man and woman in gold, suggesting peace and humanity, slowly moved about the stage. Another quick change occurred when at least ten dancers entered in white and danced joyously to upbeat Mexican music. Death suddenly appeared (because he’s always nearby), and the piece, surprisingly, ended here. It felt like a necessary fourth section was missing, making the piece feel choppy and incomplete. It was not very memorable, nor did it spark my interest in the companion piece De Sueños.

Notes for the final piece on the program, Cloven Kingdom, included the following quotation from Spinoza: “Man is a social animal”. This piece shows the beast within humankind. Eight women in long skirts waltzed and danced elegantly to classical music by Arcangelo Corelli. Their movement was refined, with sweeping arms and open chests. But shortly after four men – dressed in tuxedos – joined the waltzing women, bits of harsh, animalistic-sounding rhythms by Henry Cowell and Malloy Miller were interspersed with the classical music. The dancers’ movement reflected the abrupt changes in music: airy waltzing was quickly replaced by territorial crawling and somersaulting over one another with hunched backs and serious facial expressions. As the piece progressed, the music became more and more cut up so that there were only fragments of classical music heard in between the deep, percussive rhythms. Cloven Kingdom is an original and stirringly honest piece about humankind’s animal instinct. The first photo (above) shows the dancers waltzing in their refined state, while the one below illustrates the transition to “man as animal”.

(Orion Duckstein, Ted Thomas, Robert Kleinendorst, and Michael Trusnovec in Cloven Kingdom, photo by Lois Greenfield)

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One Response to Paul Taylor Dance Company at City Center

  1. Philip says:

    CLOVEN KINGDOM was the first Taylor piece I saw his Company dance more than 20 years ago and it is still one of his best: I love the juxtaposition of Baroque music and ‘jungle’ themes.

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