PAUL TAYLOR'S AMERICAN MODERN DANCE--Death and The Damsel/Cloven Kingdom
March 19, 2015
Before the curtain of the David Koch Theatre rises on Paul Taylor's American Dance, Margaret Kampmeier sets the catastrophic tone of “Death & The Damsel” with her excellent piano performance of Bohuslav Martinu’s Cello Sonata No. 2, played with cellist Myron Lutzke. Written in 1941 by the Czech composer, this duet is fiendishly difficult, exuding great depth of feeling, mostly conjuring terror and sadness. A blonde belle, Jamie Rae Walker, rises from a bed set downstage while a cityscape painted with vivid theatricality by Santo Loquasto. Initially, the damsel wearing a short pink dress, light heartedly scampers on and off the bed. But the lighting by James F. Ingalls turns ominous as she stops herself. Clearly she remembers a nightmare, whereupon nine men and women, clad in black bondage attire, invade her space.
In the course of this grim dance, which premiered this season, the set changes three times; first to a dance hall and then to a sinking skyscraper, each one equally compelling. In the choreographed gang rape, no one, male or female, comes to aid the damsel, nor does she ever visibly resist. The rhythmic richness and range of the music implies control with anguished struggle, while Taylor’s damsel appears helpless, clueless. Each man who flips Walker, sets her on her back, opening her legs into a V, stone-faced, commits the implied deed with no obvious enjoyment. The dance ends as if a black cloud has eclipsed the damsel.
The score is equally fascinating for the classic “Cloven Kingdom,” first performed in 1976, with music by Arcangelo Corelli (Italian 1653-1713), Henry Cowell (1897-1965) and Malloy Miller (1918 –1981). Alternately stately and lush, percussive and predatory, the score perfectly conveys Tailor’s theme perfectly captured by the Spinoza quote printed below its title in the program: “Man is a social animal.” The men dressed in evening tails have most of the fun in this piece, excepting the four women who appear in John Rawling’s mirrored headpieces which throw light-freckled patterns on the back wall.
The courtly dance of the men and women is pleasant. Off by themselves, the men come alive, drop their hands at the wrists and prance, with their knees pumping high and later jump side to side with their arms curved like wings, the backs bent. The ladies, each wearing a different bold colored long dress, hint that all is not completely secure with a graceful step on tiptoe, a pique, that then buckles slightly as hips pushes forward. Clear, musical, with highly memorable moments, “Cloven Kingdom” deserves its reputation.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers