Variety as Spice


Paul Taylor once said of a dancer he treasured that she had “the hips of an innocent satyress.” I think he likes all his women to look that way. The 1962 Aureole, revived for his company’s 45th anniversary season, contains one of dance’s most beautiful solos for innocent hips. And the new Arabesque has the look of an orderly bacchanal.

The Debussy music for Arabesque helps conjure up images of nymphs and satyrs—perhaps because of sunny cadences reminiscent of Afternoon of a Faun. Santo Loquasto dresses the eight performers in stylish costumes and headgear that hark subtly back to chitons and fillets. Arms angled, wrists cocked, their jumps like running positions frozen in midair, the dancers look as if they’ve broken loose from a frieze and spun into strenuous motion.

Early on, Silvia Nevjinsky puts her hands over Michael Trusnovec’s eyes, and he staggers blindly while three couples frisk. She dances a bold solo—maybe she’s the resident priestess—but after a reprise of the opening, in which all the steps get repeated in a looser, more abandoned way, Trusnovec blinds her. Taylor likes interjecting shadow into sunshine.

“I love his vocabulary!” said a veteran Taylor fan, swooning into the lobby after the new Cascade. It’s fascinating how Taylor can put the same steps into dance after dance, altering them through circumstance, timing, and attack. Take away Loquasto’s gorgeous costumes (black and gold, hint of baroque, the men’s vests and the women’s filmy overskirts and little snoods gleaming in Jennifer Tipton’s sumptuous light): At moments you’d swear you were seeing Airs or Arden Court or any of Taylor’s blithe dances. But Cascade‘s most entrancing sections have a different slant, a very particular response to excerpts from several Bach concertos.

Baroque music brings out tenderness and courtliness in Taylor, and a robust playfulness. Simultaneous flowing duets raise a gentle question about gender roles. Richard Chen See, dancing with Kristi Egtvedt, duplicates what Lisa Viola is doing with Andy LeBeau. During this “larghetto,” partners and roles change, unison slips into canon, and a party dance becomes an exploration of private delight. Andrew Asnes leads a rollicking male quartet as if it were a squadron in training and he a friendly, watchful, and uncannily buoyant master sergeant. The deepest thing in the work is a succulent solo for Francie Huber. Warm and fluent, she dances as if struck by the sun, exploring the slim boundary between ecstasy and grief.

Taylor’s dancers are all marvels of speed and lyricism, but Asnes and Huber seem to have reached a peak this season. Once Huber donned her role in Piazzola Caldera as if it were a costume; now it’s her skin.

Only for Richard Move’s “Martha @ Mother” do spectators stand in the street or the jammed, smoky lobby waiting for the early show to end so the late one can begin. People grin and bear the cramped seating, or stand for the curious pleasures Martha offers. Never has the term “variety show” been more apt. One of Charles Atlas’s sensationally funny video collages of tacky clips precedes Isaac Mizrahi as a tailcoated and knowledgeable compere who introduces atowering “Martha Graham” (Move) and her company in clever parodies of Graham’s militant early-’30s dances (especially beguiling: a line of women stalking and leaping across the tiny stage from left to right while another line, similarlyfervent, travels from right to left).

Next attraction? The venerable Merce Cunningham on a stool, performing with tremendous intensity poses and expressions that suggest the nine permanent emotions of Indian dance, and then reminiscing smartly with “Martha” about his days with Martha (whose name he slyly professes not to remember). The audience seems not to find it mind-boggling that Cunningham is followed by Julie Atlas Muz as a bruised, eager-to-please JonBenét Ramsey type, lip-synching Dolly Parton, or, in Damsel in Distress, straining to get out of coils and coils of rope. We can get serious when former Graham dancer Donlin Foreman reads prose poems about the ardor and rigor of her vision, or Doug Varone and Gwen Welliver riff on quarrelsome camaraderie to a Chopin polonaise. While Move and Rob Besserer are downright sweet in a take on several Graham works of the ’40s, Deborah Bull, a principal with the Royal Ballet, offers Marc Baldwin’s virtuosic, vaudevillian Sabre Dance: a cheekily sexy soldiergirl on pointe thrilled by her own militancy. The next Martha’s in May, fans!

Four Voices, Inside Out shows Allyson Green at her best. She has a gift for intimacy. Four women stand paired. The ones behind give the ones in front gentle hugs, leaning as if to whisper in their ears. We hear the whispers, indistinguishable in Erin Nichols and Guy Yarden’s excellent sound score. Carrie Ahern, Eun Jun Choi, Carolyn Hall, and Catey Ott may change places or partners, but the woman in back seems always in control. And the maneuvers—the couples in unison or mirror-image symmetry—can suggest rebellion, dependence, solace, and a multitude of other relationships. It’s a lovely piece from this rich beginning to brief, pungent solos for each dancer to finely imagined interweavings for all four.

In Paragraphs on Wind, Karl Anderson, David Figueroa, Sean Mueller, and Green join the women. The dance is full of beauty, and the crowd adores it. There’s good music by Yarden and a stunning light installation by Peter Terezakis that climaxes the dance: Vertical fluorescent tubes, like ancestor spirits, flash in erratic rhythms from the church balcony.

However, I start wondering, as I often do these days, about passages that—although personally imprinted—seem like part of a generic vocabulary. In this piece, I feel a predominant dynamic and a rhythm of step-hop or step-step-step-hop, etc. The hops aren’t dinky little things, mind you, but big, flying jumps in which the dancers spread out in the air and maybe tumble and roll before rising to jump some more. They do this wonderfully, but it can begin to seem self-perpetuating, their nonstop litheness and springiness making them look unaware, as if the dance were doing them, instead of vice versa.

Interestingly, Green’s wry homage to the 1990s doesn’t display this contemporary penchant. Czech offNineteen 9’s is full of variety. Ahern plays moodily with her hair, wearing a Bausch-style ’50s dress and heels, while Figueroa and Ott, in biker shorts, stand on their heads. Green herself blends 19 choreographers’ nine most hated or loved movements into a salty goodbye to the decade. Onward!

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