writers on dancing


Taylor Cooks

"Funny Papers", "Klezmerbluegrass", “Promethean Fire"
New York City Center
New York, New York
March 5, 2005

by Gay Morris
copyright ©2005 by Gay Morris

George Balanchine used to compare making ballets to cooking. I thought of that during the Saturday matinee of the Paul Taylor Dance Company’s fiftieth anniversary season at City Center. Taylor has made many kinds of works, but among them is one that might be compared to chicken stew prepared in various styles—cacciatore, paprikash, gumbo. The cooking method and basic ingredients are the same, the difference comes in the added details. In these works Taylor’s basic ingredient is his Graham-based vocabulary, which he combines with a suite structure of individual dances, often to disparate pieces of music such as pop songs, to which he adds a theme. There’s the tango ballet, the World War II ballet, the Depression ballet , etc. Taylor is at the least a competent chef, so these works are usually tasty, if formulaic. Two such works were presented Saturday, "Funny Papers" from 1994 and "Klezmerbluegrass" from 2004. The third piece, "Promethean Fire" from 2002, shows the heights Taylor can achieve when his passions are engaged and he decides to be creative.

"Klezmerbluegrass" is being shown in New York for the first time and is set to a score in the schizophrenic mode suggested by the title. It’s to the credit of Margot Leverett, who arranged the traditional music, that she could make anything remotely coherent out of such a combination. The choreography doesn’t fare as well. At one moment it looks like a hoe-down and the next like an Israeli line dance. There are also moments that seem vaguely socialist realist with the men flexing muscles and resembling sculptures of Labor or Revolution. The two most interesting dances are for the women, the first led by the exotic Silvia Nevjinsky, which emphasizes sinuous movements, particularly of the arms, that are lyrical and beautiful. The other is a solo for Annmaria Mazzini in which she appears to be coming to terms with herself and is both vulnerable and strong. Otherwise it’s pretty much standard issue Taylor, that is to say well-crafted while breaking no new ground. "Klezmerbluegrass" also makes one aware just how limited Graham technique is unless it gets a real boost from other sources.

"Funny Papers" is a crowd-pleaser that uses what the program calls novelty songs like “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” and “I’m Popeye the Sailor Man” and that is full of amusing incidents and choreographic jokes. But it also has occasional notes of that dark side of Taylor’s personality that has always been a part of his work and gives it edge when it threatens to become too cute. It was evident in the several sections of hysterical laughter in the work. This was undoubtedly supposed to be part of the "Funny Papers" theme, but the laughter, which goes on for extended periods of time, bordered on disturbing. It should be added that, with the exception of opening night, all the sound accompaniment Taylor is using this season is recorded. “I Am Woman,” another one of the dances, makes fun of the feminist anthem firstly by being set to a recording of a female voice that is hopelessly out of tune. Nevjinsky leads the cast the first time around in a series of heroic gestures and poses and then Orion Duckstein takes over, camping it up and looking utterly incompetent as he attempts various virtuosic movements such as the cliché dear to the hearts of baton twirlers in which the performer holds one leg in a high second position while hopping around in a turn. The dance should have been funny, but there was something about the singer’s terrible but sincere performance that made the send-up seem just a little cruel. On the other hand “I like Bananas Because They Have No Bones,” led by Andy LeBeau and James Samson, was filled with dancing double entendres that were slyly comical. Santo Loquasto’s black and white jumpsuits set against Jennifer Tipton’s sharply lit cycloramas of solid bright colors were a perfect foil for the dance.

"Promethian Fire," said to have been influenced by the events of 9/11, is a work in an entirely different category from the other two offered on Saturday afternoon. To begin with, it is set to serious music: J.S. Bach’s Tocata & Fugue in D minor, Prelude in E-flat minor, and Chorale Prelude BWV 680. The dancers’ costumes, black velvet leotards and tights decorated with thin gold chevrons, reinforce the solemnity of the piece. The first movement is a study in alternating centrifugal and centripetal motion, the dancers running and tumbling in constantly shifting spirals that pour across the stage with enormous energy. This cataclysmic motion, which sometimes involves a writhing, upward movement as the dancers tumble and roll, recalled figures in Auguste Rodin’s Gates of Hell.

The center section of the work is a duet, performed by the company’s two leading dancers, Lisa Viola and Patrick Corbin. They appeared to be survivors of the preceding maelstrom who, after resolving their own conflicts, are absorbed into the group that rises from the devastation. In the final image the dancers, grouped in an inverted pyramid, spread their arms like wings. This kind of powerful statement is extremely unusual, perhaps unique, in Taylor’s work. His talent has always been for the rapier attack or the low blow, and sometimes, as in "Esplanade" and "Aureole," the lyrically beautiful. "Promethean Fire" brings another element to his work, that of grandeur, and demonstrates that even after half a century of making dances, he is capable of new dimensions.

Volume 3, No. 10
March 9, 2005

copyright ©2005 Gay Morris


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