Where would Paul Taylor be without his fix of darkness, even evil? I suspect choreography would become a chore to him, and that his “beautiful” dances—ranging from the 1962 Aureole to the golden, millennial Cascade—would turn out less idyllic were it not for the terrifying ones. Maybe the choreographer comes to works like Cascade shriven; maybe they shrive him. But even in his blithe dances, shadows may fall on the landscape. Someone drops to the floor, someone is blinded; the dancing continues.
The Taylor company will perform Cascade, to a harmonious rush of Bach concertos, in Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors on August 11 and 12, along with the steamy Piazzolla Caldera and the cryptic, witty Lost, Found, and Lost. Taylor’s latest, Fiends Angelical, which premiered at Jacob’s Pillow the week the choreographer turned 70, will not be shown in the Damrosch bandshell. It needs to be performed inside, maybe in a firelit cave. Fiends doesn’t traffic in the specific depravities of, say, Taylor’s 1970 Big Bertha. Like his great Rune, it is a ritual of some kind, but less resonantly mysterious. Here eight dancers are a coven of primal, genderless creatures who punch and kick the air, fall to the floor in a squabbling knot, and roll away. Santo Loquasto backs the choreographic designs with a gold and gray-green cloth, bearing a possibly occult design that Jennifer Tipton fires with red light at a crucial point. Loquasto’s shocking unitards suggest nearly naked bodies daubed with clay and adorned with loincloths and cross-gartering bands; every headdress sprouts a frizz of black hair. Francie Huber, wearing a gorgeous flowing sarong and little curving horns, reigns over a society that looks like a 19th-century colonial fantasy of Hottentots.
The music, George Crumb’s Black Angels (as recorded by the Kronos Quartet), is beautifully apt. Even the buried hymn tunes we hear when Huber blesses her flock are menaced by faint squeaking noises (as if an uneasy finger were stroking the rim of a glass), and the stringed instruments can sound like a blast of panicky bats. Symmetry seems to be a guiding principle. Although in their tumblings, stampings, and crunched-in bodies the dancers sometimes resemble tantrummy children, they readily fall into canons and orderly lines. Lisa Viola and Patrick Corbin begin a fierce duet hunkered over, head-to-head, in mirror image, and finish locked together on the floor, choking each other. Huber—smooth and powerful—initiates a rite to restore them, her arms always moving identically. Upstage, three women writhe along; downstage, three men stride out in purposeful unison.
After Huber has drawn a red rope from the heap that is Corbin and Viola, and the crew has rapidly cat’s-cradled it into a big star, she bites it in two, and the couple recover—able to kneel and open their chests to the sky. At the end, all assemble, their arms fanning the air like wings. Good and evil fit together—Siamese twins sharing the same bloodlines. The angels here are Taylor’s magnificent dancers, alchemists helping him transmute human movement into gold.
On one Pillow program, Big Bertha follows Aureole: from sunlight and Handel and dancing as clear as water to depravity and the jangle of band machines. Who but Taylor would construct a scenario in which a penny-gulping amusement-park automaton corrupts every middle-class American family that hears her siren song? Things gets sleazier by the moment: Mom shucks her ’50s skirt and pumps her hips, Dad rapes daughter, and Big Bertha acquires a slave. Newish dancers triumph: Orion Duckstein, Heather Berest, and Annmaria Mazzini as the hapless family to Kristi Egtvedt’s Big Bertha; also Amy Young in Aureole and Michael Trusnovec in Syzygy. Taylor’s greatness derives, in part, from his musicality and his skill at weaving dance steps into meaningful patterns. But more rare and valuable is the wildness of his imagination and insight. Gems grow in dark clefts of rock; having pried them out, he never forgets their home.
When the beautiful and deadly white-gowned Wilis in the Bolshoi Ballet’s production of Giselle waft admonishing arms or crisscross the stage in those inexorable arabesques voyagées, I’m almost more moved than I am by the story of betrayal, death, and salvation. Marius Petipa, who remade the 1841 ballet in 1885, transformed the corps from a diverse bevy of ghost maidens into an implacable force. Drilled to perfection, the Bolshoi women make unison into a shining principle.
The Bolshoi has weathered artistic stagnation and more than five years of debilitating administrative hassles. Since the full company’s last visit in 1996, the level of both dancing and artistic direction has risen magnificently. The company, headed by general and artistic director Vladimir Vasiliev and artistic director Alexei Fadeyechev, displays the dramatic gusto and robust male performing that have been the Moscow company’s hallmarks, plus a classical elegance we used to associate more with the Bolshoi’s St. Petersburg rival, the Kirov.
At New York State Theater, the Giselle of Nina Ananiashvili is a marvel of lightness; joy makes her delicately buoyant in the village act and gossamer in the midnight woods. Seldom have a ballerina’s little hops in Act I been so truly ballonnés. This Giselle loves the world. As a wili, she is not death-chilled; she seems to yearn subtly yet mournfully into her steps, apparently saddened by her mission to destroy the faithless Albrecht. Maria Alexandrova’s excellent queen of the dead wields her power grandly, with machine-stitched bourrées and bold leaps to summon her marvelous choir of henchwilis.
As Albrecht, Sergei Filin presents a fine, ardent profile and immaculate technique. But he dances passion cautiously, as if afraid it might disarrange his coiffure. Anyway, in this version, he has acquired a serious dance rival: Giselle’s rustic suitor Hilarion (I saw Alexander Petukhov), who tosses off bravura passages with a character-dance recklessness and dives to his death in the lake with a sideways gainer. Some of Vasiliev’s “improvements” have their drawbacks. Wanting to show off his cadre of soloists, Vasiliev substitutes a sparkling classical divertissement for four men and four women in place of the usual “Peasant Pas de Deux,” but has Bathilde and her father, the Count, withdraw into Giselle’s cottage, so that the only spectators of all this virtuosity (besides us) are the happy harvesters.
The set and costumes are less impressive than the dancing. Sergei Barkhin’s odd village fantasy evokes Soviet-era thinking; these peasants inhabit hovels (how do they manage to afford pointe shoes?), and his split-personality forest has hanging lights and foliage like doilies. Hubert de Givenchy (!) comes up with such excesses as a lemon yellow suit with lots of red trim for Albrecht’s squire. But under Alexander Sotnikov, the New York City Opera Orchestra makes Adolphe Adam’s lovely score sound fresh again.