And I went on/Rich in the loss of all I sing. . . . ” Lines from a poem by W.D. Snodgrass head the program for Paul Taylor’s moving new Lines of Loss. A young man couldn’t have written that poem or made this dance. Snodgrass’s later works have been labeled “confessional.” Taylor avoids any such possibility by parceling out visions of loss of all kinds—lovers, friends, youth, life—among his marvelous dancers. Solemn parades and the temporary circles that form around soloists give each section the aura of a ritual.
A myriad of horizontal black lines, thin or smudgy, cross Santo Loquasto’s backdrop; because they’re not entirely straight, they look, in Jennifer Tipton’s beautiful lighting, like waves of a dark sea. The dancers’ costumes, also by Loquasto, are white. Music by six disparate composers—Guillaume de Machaut, Christopher Tye, Jack Body, John Cage, Arvo Pärt, and Alfred Schnittke—mingle miraculously to produce an atmosphere of undefinable sadness and dread.
Lisa Viola sets the tone, flicking tears away. When she falls to her knees and arches backward, it’s as if she’s being crushed by the weight of her loss, as if the sky has fallen on her. In a later solo, Annmaria Mazzini, distraught, echoes that same collapse. A crouching, scrabbling group surrounds Robert Kleinendorst, but he’s also beset by forces we can’t see. In a curiously humorous moment, he opens an imaginary box, recoils from what he sees, and takes his pulse. Four men encircle Julie Tice and Michelle Fleet, dragging them back when they try to escape. Richard Chen See and James Samson fight, their hands poised like claws.
To Pärt’s haunting music, Michael Trusnovec hunches and contorts his body, hands quavering, feet dragging. Perhaps he’s the surrogate for both poet and choreographer. Aging before our eyes, he walks with an invisible cane, scratches himself, and folds into sleep. He and Viola dance conjoined, but they’re not fully together. Their heads avert as their bodies twine; when he lifts her to his shoulders and she hangs upside down behind him, he appears to have forgotten she’s there. When he waves his hand in front of her face, he could be trying to awaken her or see her through the blur of memory.
The end is almost too brief. Ten of the 11 dancers appear in red robes to the sound of bells, and lie down to form a long diagonal line, like a trail of blood, along which Viola, still in white, walks into a golden light.
Taylor invariably counters dark pieces with light ones. Troilus and Cressida (reduced) ventures deep into slapstick. Setting a take on Shakespeare’s minor play to Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours compounds the goofiness. Shakespeare wrote, “O Cupid, Cupid, Cupid,” so Taylor provides three little blond-wigged, winged busybodies (Tice, Parisa Khobdeh, and Eran Bugge) who caper in front of Loquasto’s backdrop of baroque clouds and statues and attempt to take in hand a gauche and slaphappy Cressida (Viola) and a Troilus (Kleinendorst) who has trouble keeping his purple velvet trousers up.
Viola, mugging outrageously, is a terrific physical comedian, and Kleinendorst is no slouch. The Greek invaders in scarlet and gold (Samson, Sean Mahoney, and Jeffrey Smith) who come to abduct Cressida from Troy sneak around villainously, and offer strong drink to the cupids. Court spectacles, which this piece seems to parody, rarely sullied an entertainment with plot complications, so before long cupids and warriors have paired off and joined in a final gleeful kick line.
On the night of the company’s gala, the light work and the dark one were anchored by two of Taylor’s most wonderful compositions: Aureole (1962) and Arden Court (1981). The first is simpler, a little more innocent, but both are blithe yet profound—rich in wit, tenderness, and bounding, skimming movement. Beautifully danced, they bring us a little closer to heaven.