Presaging Spring

A master choreographer digs into darkness and bounces into light

The subject of Banquet is war. Like Death in Kurt Jooss's great 1932 work, The Green Table, Taylor's battle master marches inexorably in place: toe-heel, toe-heel, toe-heel. Soldiers line up behind him. The thudding of feet fills the silences that pit Morton Feldman's Oboe and Orchestra, a piece that in this context leaks dread. At one point, light shines down on Trusnovec, and he opens his arms to it. God is on his side. When he smites a person, that person falls.

There are few characters in Banquet. We're shown a blinkered populace, ready to believe whatever it's told and do whatever it's asked to do. Amid the heedless running and fallen bodies, one woman—head uncovered, candle in hand—stands up to the big boss. That she is Julie Tice, the smallest woman in the company, emphasizes her bravery. Trusnovec easily demolishes her— numbing her, stabbing her with her own candle, dragging her away.

The others enter again holding lights, but the cycle of violence resurges. A man (Robert Kleinendorst), dressed just like Trusnovec, bursts onto the stage—falling, scrabbling on the floor, hurtling into the air and crashing down again. A tortured rival? An enemy leader? Whoever he is he pulls himself together, and the march to war resumes.

Viola (top) and Mahoney in Spring Rounds
photo: Lois Greenfield
Viola (top) and Mahoney in Spring Rounds

Details

Paul Taylor Dance Company
New York City Center
131 West 55th Street
212-581-1212
Through March 19

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Taylor has always turned a wise and sardonic eye on the foibles of humans and societies, accepting evil as part of our nature. In Banquet of Vultures he pulls no punches. A people deceived, a leader who promotes violence while professing himself God's instrument . . . I do not think the Paul Taylor Dance Company will be invited to perform this work at the White House.

Few choreographers have caught the spirit of America more lovingly than Taylor, but he's never been blind to foibles like jingoism and stand-up-and-salute patriotism. The 1965 From Sea to Shining Sea (revived this season) polishes our stereotypes and turns them upside down in vaudeville of American history, set to a witty Ivesian score by John Herbert McDowell in which well-known melodies compete and drown one another. The performers, in their "backstage" personas, stumble around in bathrobes, brush their teeth diligently, read newspapers. Once the "show" begins, a Superman with Mickey Mouse ears (Kleinendorst) plays unpleasant games with a reveling flapper (Eran Bugge) who toots a horn. There are appearances by a vain little Eva (Annmaria Mazzini), a second-rate acrobat and tap dancer (the inimitable Lisa Viola), a slinky Sally Rand type with a huge fan of red feathers (Mazzini), a streaker, and others.

It's all very funny, although badly shredded flags hang above the stage, and the "stone" on which a weary Statue of Liberty (Heather Berest) is sitting sinks under her. Mayflower pilgrims trample a well-meaning Indian (Orion Duckstein). The Ku Klux Klan makes an appearance, while Liberty mends the flag. As the curtain descends, she's trying to straighten the crumpled prongs of her crown. The savvy performers include Amy Young, James Samson, Michelle Fleet, and Nathaniel Keuter.

For all its humor, From Sea to Shining Seatakes a sterner view of Americans than the 1999 Oh, You Kid, which reiterates some of the same themes in a vaudevillian ambience. Sea premiered during the struggle for racial equality in the South, the year after Klan members murdered three young civil rights workers. Lethargy, horn-blowing patriotism, and prejudice play their roles on this American stage. Liberty's crown is, perhaps irreparably, bent out of shape. And still we laugh.

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