PAUL TAYLOR-SULLIVANIANA/SPENDTHRIFT/MERCURIC TIDINGS
March 28, 2016
Many important dance companies are focusing on finding new and creative ways of reinventing themselves to ensure their future. After sixty years making dances and presenting his work exclusively, Paul Taylor is incorporating modern dance masterpieces by others as well as new contemporary choreography into his programming. However, Friday night was an all-Taylor evening, and the house was packed.
The evening began with Spindrift (1993) to music by Arnold Schoenberg and an impressionistic beach backdrop by Santo Loquasto, beautifully lit by the masterful Jennifer Tipton. In the dreamy, atmospheric beginning, the dancers cluster around the center of the stage, crossing and moving their arms in circular patterns, some slowly dropping to their knees, to a barely audible beach soundscape. Eventually a single man (Michael Trusnovec) steps forward out of the clump, dancing a melancholic solo, while others move playfully around him. The work seems to evoke an individual’s struggle to be part of a group: at one point, he faces another man in a seemingly fraught confrontation that dissolves without climax. This ambiguity injects a mystery that leaves us pondering loneliness.
The season’s premiere, Sullivaniana (2016, to the musical overtures Iolanthe, Pirates of Penzance, and Patience by Sir Arthur Sullivan), was the low point of the evening. Dressed in garishly colored costumes (again by Santo Loquasto) reminiscent of can-can dancers or Western hussies, with the stage framed by lights like a music hall proscenium, the dancers run in and out doing solos, duets, and group work, flirting, skipping, apparently in love or maybe bored: lots of cavorting with no apparent rhyme or reason. Strangest of all is to see the same signature Taylor steps previously used so poetically now dressed in tackiness. Lots of pretty dancing and flirtation ends up with all the cast members on rolling around on the floor groping each other, in an attempted comic twist that fell rather flat.
In Mercuric Tidings, (1982) we get the verve and gut-busting dancing that we expect from the Taylor company to music by Franz Schubert (lighting also by Tipton and costumes by Gene Moore). The work begins with slow, symmetrical patterns that Taylor builds to asymmetrical sculptural forms, and back again. A highly balletic work, one has to let go of searching for the extremity of line that is standard fare in ballet to become engrossed in the relentlessly energetic and joyful dancing.
Often with Taylor’s dances, a disjunctive feeling arises between the maturity of the dancers and the frolicking innocence of the steps (like children, they hold hands and skip or cabriole in a circle, or they jump with arms reaching to the sky with longing). But it is precisely this exuberance and a razor-sharp musicality that makes Taylor distinctive: no matter the subject, there is a commitment to the dancing that is infectious, if not earth-shattering.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson