writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, San Francisco Bay Area edition

Dante Variations

Runes, Dante Variations, Arden Court
Paul Taylor Dance Company
Presented by San Francisco Performances
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
March 26, 2004

By Rita Felciano
Copyright © 2004 by Rita Felciano
published 11 April 2004

On the first of three different programs of the Paul Taylor Dance Company’s two week San Francisco engagement, the 73-year old choreographer premiered his latest opus, Dante Variations, performed between the enigmatic Runes and the idyllic Arden Court.

For the music, Taylor used an intriguing to barrel organ arrangement of Musica Ricercata, a set of early piano pieces (1966) by Gyorgi Lygeti. It’s an intriguingly mocking score whose repetitions chase each other up and down the scale at times faster than live fingers ever could. The organ’s mechanical nature—at one point you hear its creaking innards—and its characteristic sound also evoke a carnival. While not as fiercely acerbic as Taylor’s other going-to-the fair piece, Big Bertha, Dante too takes a jaded perspective on human nature

Superscribed with a line from Dante’s Inferno (Canto III), “These are the nearly soulless whose lives concluded neither blame nor praise”, it is not difficult to see in this new work at the very least a certain impatience with people’s unwillingness to live fully realized lives.

More episodic, and more choreographed for individuals than is his usual wont, Taylor’s opening image introduced a mound of faceless souls piled up into mass of limbs that began to stir like unearthed worms. It was not a pretty picture despite the elaboratedly painted and appliqued tights and tops which clothed the dancers in an armor of a scintillating reptilian look.

The piece consisted essentially of a series of solos, several of which used a somewhat gimmicky white scarf; it bound Annamaria Mazzini’s hands, stuck to Robert Kleinendorst’s foot and blindfolded Michelle Fleet.

More interesting were kinetic embodiments of stunted lives. Sylvia Nevjinsky forlorn scoops and shakes pushed her towards a crippled six-o’clock extension. She looked as if she were pushing for something but not all the way. When flat on her back, men crawled in, sniffing her like dogs, finally deciding she was a cadaver. It reminded one of people falling down in the street and noone reaching out to them.

With her arms behind her back, Mazzini’s fiercely lashing and stomping choreography sent her crashing to her knees and into a scooting trajectory. One can only hope that her joints will survive this kind of assault. Kleinendorf, on the other hand, had something darkly comical about him, hopping and cross-stepping with that appendage to his foot. His pas de chats and barrel turns sent him into contractions and stumbles when he tried to remove it.

A mock ceremonial raised Michelle Fleet unto a throne of male arms who simply turned her upside down after she impatiently asserted her power by banging on her raised knees. Blind-folded, she became the object of a rather blandly choreographed blind-man’s buff.

Solos for Michael Trusnovec and Lisa Viola most ominously spoke about unwillingness to commit. You couldn’t quite tell whether the crouching Trusnovec, repeatedly approaching and recoiling from Viola’s skips and twirls, was hesitating or whether he was stalking her. Even though Viola's dancing had something flirtatious about it, when Trusnovec finally approached, she pushed him back. His solo, full of testosterone-driven athletic leaps and runs, kept her looking but sent her into the stage’s dark recesses. A short physically combative duet sent them in different directions in no time at all.

A trio, in which Fleet slyly insinuated herself into a duet between Julie Tice and James Samson, was somewhat predictable as was the re-assembling of the whole cast into the opening configuration.

First: Julie Tice, James Samson, and Michelle Fleet in Paul Taylor's Dante Variations; Photo by Orion Duckstein
Second: Annmaria Mazzini in Paul Taylor's Dante Variations; Photo by Orion Duckstein
Third:  Michael Trusnovec and Lisa Viola in Paul Taylor's Dante Variations; Photo by Orion Duckstein

(For more photos, click here:  Dante Variations.)

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 13
11 April 2004
Copyright ©2004 by Rita Felciano




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