Many of Paul Taylor’s pieces strike me as dreams, among them the golden fantasy . . . Byzantium, the nightmarish Big Bertha, and the sweet reverie Eventide. He understands love as an idyll, and the sudden appearance of monsters in our secret lives.
In two new pieces, De Sueños and De Sueños que se Repiten, he grabs dreams by the jugular and shakes them, giving two puzzling, hallucinatory glimpses of Mexican fiestas in which Christianity and Indian rituals rub against each other. Although the second piece, which translates as Of Recurring Dreams, begins with the image that ends the first, the two dances appear together only once among the major pieces on view during the company’s season.
That image is of Richard Chen See—with only his gloating face, derby hat, and black glasses visible in Jennifer Tipton’s unfailingly splendid lighting. Brandishing a machete, Chen See is death’s representative, but he tangles with another iconic figure, played by Laura Halzack. Wearing a bejeweled golden outfit by Santo Loquasto and a headdress that’s part crown, part halo, Halzack parades on tiptoe and holds one leg high in the air for long moments. Although Chen See hoists her as if she were a toppled statue of the Virgin, she can lift him too. Skulls evoking the Day of the Dead lurk among the tangled roots of Loquasto’s backdrop for De Sueños and are projected huge in De Sueños que se Repiten.
Among the revelers in white cotton (the first piece) and those in indescribable black-and-gold clothing and headgear (the second) are other figures from Mexican folklore: the Maringuilla or man-woman, who represents a dual-natured god, and the Deer Dancer, an intermediary between humanity and the divine. In De Sueños, Robert Kleinendorst, dressed as a woman, flirts roughly with ogling men; they request a hat dance, which he/she does unwillingly, stomping on the sombrero in the process. Chen See’s machete is passed around, and pairs take turns freezing in attitudes of menace and death. The golden-antlered Deer Dancer (Michael Trusnovec), who appears in both pieces, becomes a sacrifice. In De Sueños que se Repiten, which is animated by folkloric line dances and brief duets, a pregnant woman drops a doll from under her skirt. Her partner tries to stuff it back, then kicks it away. Writhing and convulsing are common to both works, along with ceremonious processions in which the performers follow Halzack on their knees, usually with Chen See marching behind.
Snatches by various, mostly Latino composers drawn from a recording by the Kronos Quartet titled Nuevo career bizarrely around these goings-on: sweet familiar tunes, raucous ones, folk dances, voices gabbling or crying out, and squeaky numbers that sound like the score of an animated cartoon. At the end of De Sueños que se Repiten, all the performers lie down when Chen See passes through, then revive when Halzack walks among them. As the curtain comes down, they’re brushing themselves off and congratulating one another, as if they’ve done a good day’s work in putting this festival on.
Neither of these pieces ranks among Taylor’s best, so it’s a pleasure to encounter a far more resonant dream in the slow second movement of his ravishing Esplanade. The meanings that lurk in the slow gestures of this small “family,” with its enigmatic matriarch in trousers and a wandering “daughter,” lie deep within J.S. Bach’s beautiful Violin Concerto in E Major. It’s disappointing that Taylor’s marvelous dancers have begun to add “attitude,” gimmicks of timing, and all-purpose smiles to Esplanade. Still, they’re heart-stoppingly daring in the dives and falls of its last section; that kind of pell-mell bravery summons up more tears than pathos does. Even in our dreams, we don’t leap wildly into another’s arms, sure of being caught and embraced.
At villagevoice.com, read Deborah Jowitt on Netta Yerushalmy, LeeSaar, and Keely Garfield.