In his formidable 1980 Sacre du Printemps, Paul Taylor cocked an astute eye at the Diaghilev era of ballet history, the theme of sacrifice, and the lives of dancers. In 2004’s Le Grand Puppetier, he mines the Ballets Russes again, reshaping Mikhail Fokine’s Petrushka into a bitter little tale that warns, pointedly, of demagoguery in all forms.
Stravinsky’s music, as orchestrated for pianolas, suggests a music box out of control and a janglingly nasty puppet stage in which strings are jerked and whips wielded.
Taylor replaces Fokine’s enigmatic “Charlatan” with a little Napoleon in black satin (Richard Chen See). Patrick Corbin stands for the enslaved. Dragged around by a leash, he’s been reduced to a clumsy puppet by the Emperor’s magic whip. In the colorful world designed by Santo Loquasto, this underpopulated country’s doll-pretty peasants and soldiers wear satin, and Jennifer Tipton’s yellow sunlight, in which they’re free to dance in a ring and take turns in pretty little solos, is eclipsed by a curved black curtain when things go wrong.
By rebelling and grabbing the whip, the great-hearted puppet neutralizes the Emperor (lumbering and staggering around to the ballet’s trained-bear music, Chen See is truly a terrifying sight) and frees everyone from the threat of becoming puppets. The Emperor’s daughter (Lisa Viola) no longer has to marry the foppishly effete suitor chosen for her. She frolics with the straight soldier (Michael Trusnovec), while her fiancé teams up with the closeted gay one (Andy LeBeau). In one fine sequence, Corbin inserts himself into the duet of the first pair—not jealous, as Petrushka is of the Moor and the Ballerina, but happy to be part of their happiness. Alas, the former puppet drops the whip, and as the curtain comes down, the citizens are cowering before a reinvigorated villain. Not only does absolute power corrupt, it’s hard to get the thoroughly corrupted out of power.
Taylor’s other new dance, In the Beginning, harks back to the theme of his folksy So Long Eden, which in 1973 became a part of American Genesis, a full-evening piece linking biblical tales with legendary American settings. The new work—set to lightweight woodwind orchestrations of Carl Orff’s music—feels like an outline for something bigger; the curtain comes down, and you think, “Huh?” Multiple Adams and Eves in white (Loquasto again) skip and trudge to the commands of a desert-sheikh Jehovah (LeBeau) in black (later white). Silvia Nevjinsky and Robert Kleinendorst do the apple bit. Temptress Annmaria Mazzini has all the Adams chasing her. Rapid mimed pregnancies and births yield not just thumb-sucking Cain and Abel; in a flood of “begats,” the entire cast squirms between Nevjinsky’s legs. And in the end, forgiven, they sleep.
Paul Taylor the master is abundantly on view during the season, courtesy of his splendid company. The beautiful simplicity and compositional surprises of his 1962 Aureole still make me weep. Audiences can relish the bizarre wit of the simian creatures in Three Epitaphs (1956); the power and daring of Viola and Trusnovec (the latter really coming into his own as a performer) in Promethean Fire‘s duet; Nevjinsky’s ravishing, breath-suspended dancing in Airs (1978); Mazzini bringing depth to the role of the troubled woman in the biting 1997 Piazzolla Caldera; Chen See sunny and bounding in Aureole; and a fine new woman, Michelle Fleet.
The concert shared by Karl Anderson and Kate Weare as part of DTW’s Carnival series lasts just over an hour with minimal pauses, and the choreographers’ imagination and clear-mindedness rarely flag. Several of the short dances create the semblance of journeys. In his Embracing Nothingness, Anderson keeps returning to a calm supine position, but as Gyuto monks drone on, he travels toward one corner, sometimes buffeted backward into spins and flips. In Weare’s Two Cell Series, the choreographer and Melanie Maar—wearing only flesh-colored sheaths over their legs and lower bodies—inch together along Jay Ryan’s corridor of light until they bond into undulating side-by-side unison and continue sliding along the floor. In the second half of the piece, they wear white dresses, and Karinne Keithley’s sound composition becomes slightly more musical, less a world of scraping, crackling noises. Weare creates simple, unusual motifs for this study in identical single-minded pursuits, gradually developing tensions and connections that seem preordained. Sinking into wide-legged pliés, the two women sway mechanically; with legs straight, they vibrate with furious speed and detached stares, fingers wiggling—unknowable but fully understandable.
Two succinct solos by Weare also illuminate strong guiding principles. In Dig, Diana Mehoudar scrabbles at the floor with her hands, and squats and places her hands above it as if divining what’s beneath. In Dirt, Weare abases herself, scrubbing her head against the ground, seeming always to travel backward. In this stylish concert, only Anderson’s Squint to Focus, a trio for Rachel Lynch-John, Kristi Spessard, and Molly Rabinowitz, seems to wander (despite intriguing moments, the relationships become unclear). But nothing is unfocused when Weare and Anderson meet in the collaborative Intercourse, a beautiful duet. They begin by crawling and sliding over each other in tender and curious ways, and rise to create more complex images of doubt, insecurity, and fear, which run through them like the tides that are a part of love.