Kingdom," "Eventide," "Le Sacre du Printemps (The
Rehearsal)" / "Aureole," "3 Epitaphs," "Dante
Variations," "Company B"
Having three weeks to savor the Paul Taylor repertory, in varied programs (rather than the usual Program A, B, C format) is a delight not to be taken for granted, and an appropriately festive way to mark the landmark of the company's fiftieth anniversary. By the time the fourth program had unfolded, the company had already offered eleven of the season's nineteen works, including the two local premieres. These two programs alone spanned 48 years of Taylor's choreography, and each was extremely well-balanced, inspired and richly nourishing.
First performed in March 2004, "Dante Variations" is a work that one can imagine Taylor choreographing with a sense of twisted delight. Beginning with an artfully designed arching mass of bodies piled across the stage, it suggests an effort to rise out of the primordial ooze. This is one of those Taylor dances in which he discovers new, and often punishing, ways for the body to twist, contort, and give in to gravity. There are no celestial images here; rather, bodies are gnarled and pulled to extremes. Very much an ensemble work, with brief solo turns for most of its ten dancers, it offers a chance to admire the troupe's sheer muscular dynamism and fierce commitment.
Taylor hasn't made this kind of brutish, demonic work for a while. "Fiends Angelical," a 2000 work which hasn't been seen much since, had a somewhat similar ferocity and desperation, but veered towards outrageousness. "Dante Variations" has grater coherence and unfolds with grimly beautiful inevitability. It bears a certain kinship to works like "Dust" and "Runes," in which the dancers belong to some unique, strange tribe enacting their own fascinating rites. The spare yet highly propulsive score, Gyorgy Ligeti's "Musica Ricercata" adapted for barrel organ, has an offbeat weirdness that clearly captured Taylor's imagination.
This tribe of purgatorial misfits expends a lot of energy without realizing they can't get anywhere. Indeed, they are doomed to return to their fallen cluster at the end. Sylvia Nevjinsky is the last to rise from the ooze and has the first intense solo, in which she clutches her raised leg towards her before winding up splayed on her back, with the men clustered over her as though examining their prey. They then carry her off triumphantly, holding her prone figure high over their heads. The series of brief solos in which a white piece of material limits or hinders the dancer are both humorous and disturbing. Watching Annmaria Mazzini flail and lurch with her hands tied together evokes images of bound prisoners, even as we admire her imaginative attempts to surmount her limitations. Robert Kleinendorst trails the white fabric from his left foot in a way that make shim look a bit ridiculous, while also putting him in potential peril from tripping over it as he flops around. Blindfolded Michelle Fleet seems to be part priestess, part victim as the ensemble raises her on high and then turns her upside down.
The Ligeti music ranges from goofy to spooky, at times sounding like a parody of a cheesy horror movie score. It clearly tapped a rich corner of Taylor's imagination, and "Dante Variations" certainly looks like a work whose secrets will be further revealed on future viewings.
These programs included strong, vibrant performances of several repertory
staples. "Cloven Kingdom," which comes in just under the top-drawer
level in the Taylor canon, seamlessly slipped from decorous refinement
to ungainly self interest and aggression. As one admired the elegantly
swirling flow of Scott Barrie's long dresses, one could also sense the
fiercer impulses lurking under those skirts. The celebrated men's quartet—men
in tuxedoes behaving very badly—did not have quite the animalistic
punch it can sometimes achieve, but it seethed with rambunctious vigor.
Patrick Corbin has owned the profoundly beautiful second-movement solo since Elie Chaib relinquished it after many years, and he brought a touching gravitas to it on this occasion, although he could not quite unfurl the series of off-center balances with complete control. One missed the overall phrasing that can make it seem like a somber meditation. Lisa Viola conveyed a sense of breezes blowing on a warm day in her fluid, airy third-movement solo that begins with simple side-to-side hip swaying and opens out effortlessly into space.
The gently autumnal "Eventide" (1997) made a welcome return to the repertory, its five couples conveying subtle gradations of romance, from the hungry and eager to the melancholy and reflective. It was especially lovely to see Corbin in this once more, since this is his final season with the company. Taylor has shaped the two duets that Corbin and Heather Berest performed with such spareness and musical subtlety. "Eventide" sometimes strikes me as Taylor's homage to Antony Tudor. So much is conveyed by the dancers' postures or the way they looks at each other—or, in the case of Corbin and Berest, avoid each others' eyes.
"Company B" looked exceptionally fresh, and as always left one to marvel at how Taylor succeeds in being both entertaining and thought-provoking. There is always a subtext to what is going on, even in the beautifully staged opening, where the dancers become a carefree swinging waves of motion, but only once they have emerged from the darkness, their silhouettes gradually coming to life. Michael Tursnovec was goofily endearing as the object of all the women's affection in "Oh Johnny," confused and delighted by all the attention. "Rum and Coca Cola," its counterpart, makes something endearing out of the men's hungry and juvenile fascination with Sylvia Nevjinsky's swirling skirt and flashes of leg. She's a more mature and knowing temptress than the sunny child-woman that Mary Cochran created in the role. The whole cast reflected the cheeky innocence and ready-for-anything energy that the Andrews Sisters songs exude, yet always left you aware that something urgent and dire might lay around the corner. And as always, one appreciated what a perfect collaboration dance is: there is the brilliance of Santo Loquasto's costumes, with its touches of red accenting the varied patterns in shades of tan and green-grey, and its Rosie-the-Riveter imagery, and the essential lighting of Jennifer Tipton, which glows with exuberance yet always makes you aware of the shadows.