Theater archives

Spring Vintage


When starting a new work, one thing Paul Taylor considers is what his repertory needs. Clearly, he viewed a tart-sweet trifle as the latest lack. Antique Valentine, featured during his company’s season at City Center (through Sunday), is set to mostly 19th-century classics rendered on music boxes, mechanical organ, and player piano. The eight dancers wear sensational clothes by Santo Loquasto—springy disk tutus and sunbonnets for the women, straw boaters for the men; almost every inch of them is candystriped. Taylor rigorously maintains the mechanical image in his choreography. Couples toddle sunnily about, gesturing stiffly, occasionally toppling or veering out of control when cranking noises replace music. Often a spatial constriction matches the physical one; they keep to the center of the stage, as if they were indeed figures twirling on a music box, climaxing musical selections with heart-shaped tableaux.

Taylor gives the cute silliness an edge. Of the four duets (Andy LeBeau and Orion Duckstein are a Tweedledum-Tweedledee pair), the one for Lisa Viola and Patrick Corbin is the piece’s high point, in part because of Viola’s droll mien and comedic pacing. She has a terrible time getting him to figure out what to do when she drops her handkerchief; he’s not even sure which side his heart is on. At the end, the pair get married, borne aloft by the stiff friends they apparently spend their lives with.

If you attend the program with Antique Valentine, you also get to see the summer-breeze Dandelion Wine (2000) and a revival of Taylor’s dark masterpiece, the 1988 Speaking in Tongues. The latter, with its brilliant Loquasto set and Jennifer Tipton’s lighting, suggests not just a Pentecostal church and its possessed communicants, but a colony like Jonestown, run by a fierce, tormented leader (given a profound performance by Corbin). The dancers can go from skipping like angels at play to writhing on the floor, from sober prayer to violent lust; it may be all in their minds, but it’s grippingly real onstage. Julie Tice (what a lovely dancer!) and Kristi Egtvedt as a daughter and mother; Silvia Nevjinsky as a flirt; and Robert Kleinendorst as a brutalized, finally accepted outsider are only some of the outstanding performers in this horrifying cathartic rite.

The Mark Morris Dance Company offered a musical feast on its wonderfully variegated Program A at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last week. The early-music ensemble Artek played and sang the ravishing Monteverdi madrigals that accompany and inform Morris’s equally ravishing I Don’t Want to Love (1996). Ethan Iverson and Lisa Lee executed with rousing fervor Lou Harrison’s Grand Duo, which accompanies the ritualistic rompings and mysteries of Morris’s eponymous 1993 piece. Those two musicians were joined by three more for Morris’s New York premiere, the sublime V, set to Robert Schumann’s Quintet in E-flat for Piano and Strings, op. 44. A traditional ensemble, with vocalist Marisena Teicu Zamfir, rendered three hearty Romanian folk songs to accompany David Leventhal’s charming performance of Morris’s 1981 solo I Love You Dearly.

Schumann’s famous Quintet merges Romantic feeling with a muscular Classical-era structure. Morris approaches the choreography for V as if he were building a fine house; every architectural detail is echoed elsewhere. A man lifts a woman; she arches slightly, her arm thrust up like a torch. Performed by one couple, it’s an outcry. Performed by several couples in different contexts (once in a circle), it delineates a higher level, yet never loses its emotional force.

Abetted by Michael Chybowski’s lighting, Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes clarify Morris’s spatial designs. The seven dancers in the opening V-shaped formation wear bright blue trunks and short, flowing silk jackets. The seven who shortly replace them in the V, now inverted, wear long, greenish-white pants and fitted blouses. When Morris, thrillingly, places all 14 in interlocking V’s and runs through the story so far, you could die of pleasure. Instead of repetition seeming arid, it sucks you deeper and deeper into beauty. If Maile Okamura, Joseph Bowie, and Matthew Rose (in blue) have a soft, fluid exchange on one side of the stage, you’re ready for a deeper draught of it when June Omura, Lauren Grant, and Bradon McDonald (in white) repeat the trio shifted in space.

Repetition tames surprising ideas into harmony. To the theme of Schumann’s second-movement, dirge-like march, Morris’s dancers crawl (on feet and hands, rather than knees). They look like lizards plodding out of some primal ocean, suddenly able to stand. The choreography plays vertical ranks against horizontal parades, blue against white, walking against crawling. In the scherzo, first the men ingeniously uncoil a folk-dance line; then the women do it. Symmetry in all possible guises never palls. Nor do the marvelous dancers ever become just elements in a design. They built this house too and are waving out its windows.

So what if the walk from the Morgan Avenue stop on the L train makes you fantasize that Alfred Hitchcock is tracking you with his camera? Above empty streets lined with factories and warehouses, you glimpse here and there a lighted window, candles, art-hung walls. Is Greenpoint the next Chelsea? In a nice, funky studio and living quarters embedded in a derelict building, Miguel Gutierrez, until recently a knockout in John Jasperse’s company, presents entertheseen through March 17.

Leave coat and bag in kitchen. Proceed to small studio. No wonder there’s a limit on audience size. Twenty-one of us hang out by the walls. A good thing. Michelle Boulé, crisscrossing the space, tosses her legs interestingly close. Revise thinking; that wasn’t close, this is: She, Anna Azrieli, Abby Crain, and Tarek Halaby define the perimeter, leaning between us—on us—to touch base with the walls. Looking down from a high interior window: composer Jaime Fennelly. His the subtle layers of tickings, buzzings, and electronic havoc. Question: Which duct tape is real repair and which Fritz Welch’s design?

A whisper in my ear: “Stand around the dancer in red.” Now I have a bird’s-eye view of Halaby, supine, rearranging his limbs. I get it: We see them; they try not to see us. Proximity breeds distance. The legendary fourth wall may career around, but it holds. Even when these inhabitants lie against our ankles and nudge us toward a new viewing place.

Some of the finely planned, low-to-the-ground dancing is gently matter-of-fact, in excellent two-part counterpoint even; some, in a different context, would call for straitjackets or firm hugs. I admire Crain’s bravery; during a solo against a wall, she sticks her fingers into a mousehole and leans sideways by grabbing its edge. Even bolder: Azrieli and Boulé, grappling in close embraces, put their fingers in each other’s ears, mouths, and nostrils. And pull. (Thoughtful Fennelly has passed them down a bowl of water: a pas de deux you have to soap up for.) Good for Gutierrez.