Getting (It) Together

Attacking, recoiling, jabbing, trampling, collapsing, and slipping into a loved one's skin


Paul Taylor excels at depravity. In some of his works, such as Last Look, Big Bertha, and Cloven Kingdom (all on view during the company's 50th anniversary retrospective), he makes our inner demons—our vanities, sanctimony, lusts, cruelties—transform the bodies of his sublime dancers. They quake, scrabble along the floor, contort their limbs, do one another harm. You wouldn't take these people for the same radiantly blithe athletes who bound through Taylor's Aureole, say, or the tender lovers in Esplanade.

As its title implies, Taylor's new Dante Variations, approaches the poet's Inferno and its hellish torments as a series of disjunct scenes, with no guiding Virgil to link them. A sinner walks to center stage and starts suffering on cue. Actually, Taylor is not focusing on the truly evil, but, according to a program note, on the "nearly soulless" of Canto III—those assigned neither to heaven nor hell since, throughout their selfish lives, they incurred neither praise nor blame.

Mixed marriage: Packer and Bridgman
photo: Cary Conover
Mixed marriage: Packer and Bridgman

Details

Amanda Loulaki & Short Mean Lady
Dance Theater Workshop
March 2 through 5

Bridgman/Packer Dance
The Duke on 42nd Street
March 2 through 6

Paul Taylor Dance Company
New York City Center
131 West 55th Street
212.581.1212

Dante isn't one of Taylor's shatteringly deep works, but it begins marvelously. The 10 dancers twitch, writhe, and shudder in individual agonies to the dire opening beats of György Ligeti's Musica ricercata adapted for barrel organ. Because they're ranged along the floor in a clustering line higher at the center than at either end, they resemble a bas-relief crammed into the pediment of a great edifice. Released from this, they break into a deranged folk dance, now and then dropping into tortured poses. Their prison uniforms (by Santo Loquasto) are moldily fashionable—little bras for the women and low-rise tights for all, in marbelized fabric.

When Silvia Nevjinsky slogs in a circle and then falls, three passing men are quick to construe her as prey, crawling over and under her. Taylor hampers various individuals with strips of white cloth (their limitation? their punishment?). Annmaria Mazzini struggles with wrists tied together. Robert Kleinendorst staggers on with a flapping piece of fabric attached to one toe (the comedy seems misplaced unless you consider the contribution of stupid buffoonery to society's ills). Julie Tice is bound at the knees. After the doomed horde—magnified in shadows cast by Jennifer Tipton's splendid lighting—circles Michelle Fleet and lifts her as if she were some noncommittal sex goddess, her worshippers blindfold and abandon her. Lisa Viola and Michael Trusnovec come together in an uncomfortable duet that's neither cruel nor loving. \!pWhen James Samson spins holding Tice and Fleet off the floor, they look as if they're growing onto him. After more unhappy revels, they all (including Parisa Khobdeh and Sean Mahoney) roll back into their opening plastique.

The program on which Dante premiered also included two great early works and a very pleasing later one. Aureole (1962), beautifully restored, is danced with the appropriate blend of delicacy and robustness by Viola, Patrick Corbin, Richard Chen See, Fleet, and Amy Young. The unforgettable Three Epitaphs (1956), with its quintet of hunkered-down, hooded creatures that are so unlike us and yet so hilariously resemble us, never fails to delight audiences. The dancers are fine, although I thought Kleinendorst tended toward caricature. Company B (1991) takes us back to the sugar-sweet pop-music world of the '40s, when the voices of the Andrews sisters soothed the home-front folks and drew them onto dance floors; yet behind the perky dancing, and sometimes closer to the center of things, Taylor shows women waiting and soldiers falling. The performances are high-spirited, with Andy LeBeau especially excellent in the frisky Latin rhythms of "Tico-Tico."

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