PAUL TAYLOR AMERICAN MODERN DANCE
November 5, 2019
The Paul Taylor American Modern Dance Company gala night at Lincoln Center this year was a glittering, well-attended event. What a pleasure to see so many people committed and dedicated to a dance company as it goes through a major transition, with the recent loss of its founder and many retiring dancers. With a well-balanced program that both honored the past and pointed to the future, the company made a strong declaration of its new direction.
It was a pleasant surprise to see Michael Novack, the company’s new artistic director, out on the stage in Taylor’s Concertiana (2018), Paul Taylor’s last creation. Unassuming as he joined the group of dancers swirling and swiveling in blue and green layered unitards (a throw-back look by William Ivey Long), Novak both blended in and stood out in what was a glorious summation of movements from Paul Taylor’s dances. From the turns with arms in a V, to the quick little jumps in attitude, highlights from the repertory passed through the dancers’ bodies, and before our eyes, in fleeting and memorable moments.
A highlight of the evening was seeing veteran dancer Michael Trusnovec, in an historically important solo that George Balanchine choreographed for Paul Taylor himself in 1959. Episodes was a collaboration between Balanchine and Martha Graham, for whom Taylor danced at the time. It was fascinating to see Trusnovec, who started out on the floor in a pretzel-like position, unfolding and moving between frantic and slower movements, in a modern dance version of the sharp, sometimes anxiety-ridden feel of Balanchine’s black and white ballets of the period. Trusnovec is one of those dancers that commands the stage with his technically mastery and the clear focus; he always imbues movement with meaning and elevates the quality of an evening.
In Kyle Abraham’s world premiere Only the Lonely, the choice of vocal music by Shirley Horn and the structure of a series of scenes with dancers (costumed by Karen Young) as regular people, felt too similar to Black Tuesday, evening’s closer. A lindy-hopping, butt-shaking couple was quickly followed by a trio with a guy in drag that brought some comic relief, without descending into well-worn tropes. Couples formed and dissolved, ending up with unexpected pairings. But although the dance had some small surprises, as a whole it ultimately lost cohesion.
Taylor’s beloved Black Tuesday (2001) is a series of scenes set to Depression-era songs that show the down-and-out can still have a good time. American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland joined the cast, and stood out right away for her polished strut that was more stylized than the relaxed, pedestrian style of the Taylor dancers. It was a bit disappointing was to see her cast (once again) in yet another sexy solo, just as Twyla Tharp cast her recently in ABT’s version of Deuce Coupe. There is so much more to her than her knock-out body and sensuality; both she and her adoring audience need more. And perhaps it’s time to re-think these works with happy-go-lucky, theatricalized vaudevillians, hookers and hobos. They feel like a part of a nostalgic past with a veneer that needs puncturing, or at least more of a point of view, for today’s audiences.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Nicole Duffy Robertson