Sunshine and Shadows

Old Master, Young Upstart

As usual, Paul Taylor's City Center season (through Sunday) entices us with vistas of heaven and hell. But part of what makes him a great choreographer is the curious little twists in his lyrical dances and the way his monsters tug at your heart. In the beautiful 1985 Roses he creates garden statuary and bowers of amorous couples in black and tan, then, late in the game, produces a pair all in white. A surprise. After they've danced, there's no big finale. They join the other reclining lovers and assume the same tender pose, reclining on the floor. Perhaps they've been auditioning for a place here; perhaps they're the king and queen of this happy land, come late to the party.

In Last Look, made the same year and one of Taylor's most horrifying "dark" pieces, Mylar mirrors distort the dancers' reflections, sending shards of Jennifer Tipton's brilliant lighting and the women's long satin coats careering about the space (decor and costumes by Alex Katz). Yet at the end, in this inferno of twitching, thrashing souls, of violence and mayhem and despair, one woman struggles over and over to find a place in the heap of bodies. Hell is her home.

One of Taylor's newest works, Promethean Fire, is like some fierce, purifying ritual. When it begins, to Leopold Stokowski's thunderous, ringing, rather grandiose orchestration of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, the dancers emerge from a cluster and shift into ranks and files, chains and circles. Wearing stunning "uniforms" by Santo Loquasto (sleeveless black velvet unitards with bronze stripes spiraling down them), they resemble a grave army of priests. Yet amid their rapidly forming and dissolving structures, they fall, then pile up like the people in Last Look. Robert Kleinendorst presses Julie Tice overhead, and you can envisage her as both sacrificial virgin and a rock about to be hurled. In their duet, Lisa Viola clings to Patrick Corbin's feet, but she finishes by running at him and hurling herself backward into his arms from what seems like a mile away. And that remarkable moment not only stops your breath, it opens Promethean Fire in your mind. By such brave risks, the structures of our lives rise and fall.

Some say the world will end in fire: Paul Taylor Dance Company.
photo: Janet P. Levitt
Some say the world will end in fire: Paul Taylor Dance Company.

At the end of the piece, the dancers form a kind of mandala, as they often do to conclude Taylor's works. In the other new dance, Dream Girls, which entrancingly re-creates the bygone world of barbershop quartets and Wild West vaudeville, the cast also poses for us before Santo Loquasto's vast but homemade-looking black curtain against an orange sky. However, Taylor pulls one of his surprises: The Buffalo Bills (on tape, alas, like all the music this season) sing "Now the Day Is Over," and the raffish crew wanders off into the dark, all the funny business done.

The funny business is funny indeed and full of kinky takes on familiar material. Wearing Loquasto's black-and-white long johns with accessories, Michael Trusnovec, Orion Duckstein (sporting a handlebar mustache), Corbin, and Kleinendorst stand in for the singers, swinging from bravado to lust to yellow-bellied, quaking fear as various corseted belles with padded bosoms and hips besiege their lives (Tice even does a number in a fat suit). Kristi Egtvedt's ostrich-feather fans conceal a jug of liquor at each breast, which cynically answers the query, "I Wonder What's Become of Sally." The women attack the men like mosquitoes ("Shut the door, they're coming through the windows . . . "). Kleinendorst fingers Annmaria Mazzini like the piano he loves so well; she decides they'd better switch roles and plays him hard. "Sam, You Made the Pants Too Long" becomes a blend of comedy and art-dance for Corbin, as he whips one long, long pant leg in arcs.

Taylor's style accommodates to his subject. The leaps that soar in his happy works slice the air in the darker ones. The gesture of arms wrapping around the body can look like the natural conclusion to an easy swing or, rendered tensely, make the dancer seem to be caving in with shame. A roll on the floor sometimes looks like delight, sometimes like self-punishment. The ground can be a place for the dancers to skim over or sink into; at other times, they pull the same movements through a mire of their own making.

The company is marvelous. Especially memorable: Egtvedt's performances in Roses and Last Look; Viola's breathtakingly beautiful dancing in Cascade, filling her solo with light and air and warmth; Corbin, lyrical in the druggy ease of Taylor's take on the '70s, A Field of Grass; Richard Chen See, bounding lightheartedly in Cascade; and Trusnovec crawling out of his skin in Last Look. But really, everyone in everything.

Larry Keigwin dances like a faun—impish, slightly naughty, and possessed of a wonderfully strong and agile body. He treats his virtuosity as if it were a skill no more special than knowing how to use a fork. He displays these qualities charmingly in the solo, Sunshine, that opened his recent Joyce Soho program. But the show displayed something more: his craftsmanship and his ability to repeat, develop, and transform material into dances that are smart, pithy, and peculiar.

Next Page »
New York Concert Tickets