Solid Gold Hits
"A Season of Solid Gold" brings up memories of bad versions of bad pop hits badly danced on television, but the title is still not an inaccurate description of Paul Taylor's City Center season. Taylor's excellent dancers are not the Solid Gold Dancers, blessedly, but over half a century on their gold anniversary the company is one of America's most solid.
"Company B" has been a staple since it was commissioned by Houston Ballet in 1991 and has gone through several cast changes. Taylor doesn't really make dances for other companies; he makes dances on his own company that are reset on other companies. Not surprisingly, they look better on his company. "Company B" is deceptive. It's sunny on the outside, but we're used to a dark core beneath Taylor's sunny exteriors. This dance is more elusive. The costumes—print shirts in washed out greens and beiges and khaki pants—seem designed to give the feel of civilians turned military. Sometimes it's jarring the right way; sometimes it's just jarring.
This cast was not yet able to overpower impressions of prior casts; I watched the dance more than the dancers. Taylor is one of the most economical of choreographers; he can take a single idea and get an entire dance out of it. In "Company B", his motif is falling. The movement first strikes you literally; men falling in battle. Only after that do you see it also as a dance movement. Towards the beginning, one man falls as the cast circles him and that movement for a fleeting moment recalls "Serenade".
It's interesting for Taylor to be so oblique in meaning; when he's inscrutable, he's often out-and-out off the wall. It's the subject matter: War. Taylor sees it from all sides, heroic and senseless. He's also too deft a choreographer not to create something beautiful even out of death in battle. As long as America goes to war, "Company B" remains a timely and ambivalent dance.
If I were John Beresford Tipton, Taylor would get a million from me so that he could again have live music. It's a sin that the company can no longer afford it. But even the distorted speakers at City Center can't take away from the exquisite musicality of "Eventide". The dance is one of Taylor's most modestly beautiful works and it sustains its delicacy of mood throughout, no small feat. Ralph Vaughan Williams' music and Santo Loquasto's costumes and decor are co-conspirators; the pale colors that don't quite work in "Company B" are perfect for "Eventide".
To Taylor's credit and his dancers as well, they tend to make indelible impressions in their roles and cast changes can be hard to take. Like Elie Chaib before him, Andrew Asnes' departure left a void in the company and his roles seem particularly hard to fill. Andy LeBeau found the weight to fill out the "Tico Tico" solo in "Company B", but the manic bravado wasn't there. Rob Kleinendorst had more trouble with Asnes' role in "Eventide", but the deck was stacked against him. The dance is a series of duets with a palpable sense of character. Asnes danced with Rachel Berman and used his size and his pelvis to depict a character so confident and domineering that Berman knew exactly what she was getting into and chose it anyway. Kleinendorst is much smaller than Asnes and gives us the intensity, but not the implied brutality.
I'm not sold on "Promethean Fire" the way other people are. I find it second-tier Taylor; he's done greater works to the same composer ("Esplanade") and also greater works with a similar darkness. It's a bit foolish to carp about a master borrowing from himself two decades previously, but when I see the pile of bodies out of our worst nightmares in "Promethean Fire"; I recall a similar one in "Last Look". Still, like second-tier Balanchine, that's still better than most everyone else. The Stokowski schlock-Bach transcriptions that accompany the dance are bombastic parody, but the gripping performances of Michael Trusnovec and Lisa Viola aren't. In one of the uncommon instances where a cast replacement can equal or even improve on original casting, Trusnovec inherited his part from Patrick Corbin. With Trusnovec's farmboy looks and feral intensity, he is Taylor's fallen angel and a match for Viola in the part. You could feel the whole audience holding its breath during their central duet. When Viola hurled herself at him from halfway across the stage there wasn't applause, only a stifled gasp.