writers on dancing


Lightweight Taylor

"Black Tuesday," "Klezmerbluegrass," "Esplanade"
Paul Taylor Dance Company
New York City Center
March 10, 2005

by Leigh Witchel
copyright ©2005 by Leigh Witchel

Paul Taylor usually programs his concerts deftly for contrast, mixing dark, light, heavy and airy with expertise. Thursday evening’s program was a stranger, more lightweight mix than usual that skimmed its surface and had trouble gaining traction until the end.

“Black Tuesday”, first performed by American Ballet Theatre in 2001, looks better at City Center than it does on the huge stage of the Metropolitan Opera House where ABT gave its first New York performances. The comparative intimacy suits it. The work is both light and dark at the same time; Santo Loquasto and Jennifer Tipton dress and light the piece in velvety darkness with rich blacks and browns and a smoky glow. But the characters are jovial unwed mothers and comic pimps. Except for Annmaria Mazzini as a forlorn prostitute, the dancers stayed on the lighter side of the work. The silver lining of less-than-gripping performances is that one has an unimpeded view of the structure and craft of the work. What Taylor does so well is overlay a style on top his own vocabulary. In works like this and “Company B”, he imports movements from social dance in the right proportion to give the work a context without distorting it or losing his voice. The whole dance reads as being from the 1930’s even when the dancers are doing pure Taylor.

“Klezmerbluegrass” isn’t a horrible dance, but unfortunately that’s about the only kind thing I can say about it. It was commissioned by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture in honor of “Celebrate 350: Jewish Life in America 1654-2004” and trumpets proudly right under the title “Celebrating 350 years of Jewish life in America, where Jews have long been part of the fabric of the nation’s cultural life.” There’s a nice fat list of supporters below. This would be all be just fine if Taylor had anything to say on the subject, but evidently he doesn’t, and the dance looks like it was dreamed up by the company’s director of development.

The dance is another episodic series of “numbers”—the weakest possible choreographic structure—and the music, traditional music arranged by Margot Leverett, comes to us directly from Kibbutz Windham Hill. Taylor gets Bluegrass in with a hands-on-hips motif and a hora line for the Yiddishkeit, but not much more. Loquasto and Tipton throw their hands up in confused despair and give us rather plain red unitards and a blue cyclorama. Nobody helps us with any understanding of what this mating is supposed to be about. Maybe we should ask the director of development.

“Esplanade” closed the evening; good for the audience, but bad for “Klezmerbluegrass” as it only threw the newer dance’s lack of inspiration into sharp relief. It’s “Esplanade’s” thirtieth anniversary and it looks magnificent. It shares some music with Balanchine’s “Concerto Barocco”; at some heavenly festival of dance I hope it will someday share a program with it as well. The choreography is so clean in concept, pacing and intent that you feel focused and exhilarated just by watching. Some of the cleanliness is in the Bach score and the rest is in the way that Taylor finds expressiveness and formality within the ordinary and basic vocabulary of running and walking.

It got a fine performance from its entire cast; Michael Trusnovec looks more comfortable with its happiness than he did a few years ago. Parisa Khobeh, the newest woman in the company, danced fearlessly and shone in a small solo in the final movement. Heather Berest performs the slow movement with less despair than previous dancers; rather it has a swanlike elegance. If Taylor ever needed an Odette she’d be the one. My only cavil is with the casting of Lisa Viola in the “runt” role. The intensity and zany humor that makes Viola so good in roles Taylor creates for her threaten to throw “Esplanade” off balance. Works like “Esplanade” are the best arguments for Taylor’s genius; the problem is they raise the bar and make uninspired works like “Klezmerbluegrass” feel less like disappointments and more like betrayals. Maybe “Klezmerbluegrass” is the best argument for donating generously to the company so that he never needs to make another dance because he needs the money.

Volume 3, No. 11
March 14, 2005

copyright ©2005 Leigh Witchel


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last updated on March 14, 2005