Buoyant Paul Taylor Program Will Repeat Tonight and Saturday at ADF

Manet's Woman with a Dish of Plums, in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

Manet’s Woman with a Dish of Plums.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

I’ve heard people say, “oh, I’ve seen Paul Taylor,” as if once or twice or three times was really enough. Well, I’ve seen Manet’s Woman with a Dish of Plums about 500 times, and still I seek it out–for many of the same reasons one returns again and again to see the Paul Taylor Dance Company during its annual visit to the American Dance Festival.

Close observation: Big pattern, fine detail.

Perfectly arranged planes and angles.

Luscious colors in odd relationships.

Emotionality, wide-spectrum.

Darkness beneath the brightness, and vice versa.

Sheer beauty.

Of course, with PTDC, all those things are in spectacular motion, so the prowess of beautiful bodies, thoroughly trained, must be added to the list.

This year’s Paul Taylor program presented in the DPAC includes no new work–so many years, there’s a premiere–but the program is designed as it always is, like a sandwich of fine bread with a high-protein filling. This time the bread is a rich brioche, stuffed with a crisp salad–maybe tentacled calamari and slick cucumbers.

Paul Taylor Dance Company floating in Syzygy at ADF 7/2/15. Photo: Grant Halverson.

Paul Taylor Dance Company floating in Syzygy at ADF 7/2/15. Photo: Grant Halverson.

The evening opens with the 1987 Syzygy, which looks just like it sounds. When thread is spun, it is given either an S-twist or a Z-twist, and when combined in a ply, those opposing twists give the yarn an unusual energy. Syzygy contains that fruitful opposition. The dancers, led by the aptly named Michelle Fleet, are so buoyant that they seem likely to float into the lighting grid. Singly, in pairs, or in groups, the 13 dancers mirror and reverse, and reverse again, all the while traveling across and around, with Michelle Fleet arcing through now and then like a shooting star. Danced to music composed for the dance, by Donald York, in costumes by Santo Loquasto under lighting by the great Jennifer Tipton, Syzygy really does seem astronomical, with its orbits and transits, condensing clusters and expanding spaces. Or maybe celestial would be a better word for last night’s performance.

The middle piece is the fantastic Last Look from 1985, with costumes and set by artist Alex Katz. The men are dressed alike, in snug green pants and shirts, while the women wear satin robes in bright marzipan colors, each belted in red. The set is made of mirrors, tall large mirrors, placed at carefully calculated angles (as is Jennifer Tipton’s lighting). Obviously, what the audience sees varies by position in the hall, but the mirrors are arranged so that no matter where you sit, you will at times see dancers, their reflections and the reflections reflected. The bodies are seemingly multiplied, while the space is fractured and uncertain. The only thing I can compare it to is the incredible mirror scene at the end of Orson Welles’ The Lady From Shanghai. This set-up is not as complex, but confusing nonetheless, and carries much of the same sense of foreboding and menace, especially when the dancers start slapping each other around. Sean Mahoney and Parisa Khobdeh led the ensemble, her suppleness making a sublime contrast with his rigidity.

PTDC in Last Look, on the DPAC stage 7/2/15. Photo: Grant Halverson.

PTDC in Last Look, on the DPAC stage 7/2/15. Photo: Grant Halverson.

The evening closes with Esplanade (1975). Set to parts of J.S. Bach’s Violin Concerto in E Major, and the Double Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, there is nothing about this dance that is not blissful. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen this, but for sure, last night’s dancing of it was the most splendid I’ve seen. The choreography uses all of Taylor’s most playful, and most elegantly natural, language–the running, jumping, sassing and frolicking that make both dancers and audiences smile smile smile. When pairs join hands, they stretch then shrink the space between them, like bubbles blown through a ring and drawn back in. The section in which each woman in turn runs, leaps and arcs through the air to be caught and cradled by a man was particularly sizzling last night, and elicited yelps of delight from the crowd. Michelle Fleet, again, was at her superlative best. She launched herself toward her partner from what seemed an impossible distance, but she flew right to her target, curling against his chest like a leaf, with no sign of impact. Fleet also has something extra special in her traveling jumps–they are just so pretty on top of powerful–somehow she prances in mid-air. It’s a happy dance.

The great Michael Trusnovec was not on stage last night, and is not scheduled in this program. Sigh. But I’m assured that he is still dancing with the company, so maybe we will get lucky another time. This program repeats tonight at 8 and Saturday at 2.

Happy happy happy, everybody happy. PTDC in the classic Esplanade, at ADF 7/2/15. Photo: Grant Halverson.

Happy happy happy, everybody happy. PTDC in the classic Esplanade, at the American Dance Festival,  7/2/15. Photo: Grant Halverson.

Eiko: Rare Opportunity to See (and Hear) the Great Dance Artist

TODAY, July 2, at 5:00, Eiko Otake, the female half of the duo Eiko and Koma, frequent visitors to the American Dance Festival, will be present at a special salon at Pleiades Gallery in downtown Durham. The salon and reception are free to the public.

Eiko in Fukushima 24 July 2014. Photograph by William Johnston.

Eiko in Fukushima 24 July 2014. Photograph by William Johnston.

Eiko is in the midst of a series of solo movement works, A Body in Places, in which her body and spirit interact with the spirits of various physical places. As part of that work, she and photographer William Johnston travelled to Fukushima, Japan in 2014. More than three years after the earthquake, tsunami and consequent release of radiation from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, what they found released waves of grief and mourning for the loss, damage and emptiness of Fukushima Prefecture–emotions that Eiko danced and Johnston documented in A Body in Fukushima.

Johnston’s photographs, bleak and searing, are on display in three Durham locations: the lobby of Reynolds Theater (through July 23); the Durham Arts Council, and the Pleiades Gallery (both through July 25). Eiko will speak about the work this evening during the 5:00-7:30 p.m. salon/reception. Having heard her speak some years ago when she and Koma received the Scripps Award at ADF, I can assure you that she will be interesting.

Eiko continues her solo project next week in Durham. The ADF will present her in an unprecedented run of performances–in the Cordoba Center for the Arts, a former industrial building beside Golden Belt. At 7 p.m., Tuesday, July-Sunday July 12, Eiko will dance in her mesmerizing “delicious movement” style for very small audiences in the old factory spaces. Having seen her and Koma at every opportunity since the 1980s, I can also assure you, that for those who appreciate slow, intense and emotionally unsettling dance art, seeing Eiko dance up close and personal will be a very special experience.

You can purchase performance tickets here, and read about her recent appearance in New York here.

Eiko in Fukushima 22 July 2014. Photograph by William Johnston.

Eiko in Fukushima 22 July 2014. Photograph by William Johnston.

Some Duos Are More Dynamic Than Other Duos…

…but dynamism is not the only worthy quality in dance. As the 2015 American Dance Festival continues this week with four commissioned duets by paired choreographer/dancers, it offers us a chance to not only see new work unfettered by economic constraints, but to consider what we value in dance art. Whether we value any particular style or content in these new works, we ought to all value the fact that artists have been able to make them thanks to the support of the ADF. Last year, the ADF commissioned solos; this year duos–perhaps next year it will be trios. The Dynamic Duos program opened last night in Reynolds Theater, and will run through July 1.

Jesse Zaritt, front, and Mark Haim premiered Golden Age at ADF 6/29/15. Photo: Grant Halverson.

Jesse Zaritt, front, and Mark Haim premiered their Golden Age at ADF on 6/29/15.  Photo: Grant Halverson.

I, for instance, greatly prefer dancing to talking in a dance work. Yet sometimes choreographers are able to introduce talking in ways that do not cancel out the communicativeness of the silent, speaking bodies, and combining the forms increases expressive power of both. Sometimes, though, more is less.

The program opens with a strange and wonderful work, Golden Age, by Mark Haim and Jesse Zaritt, that evokes superheroes–and Caravaggio. Roman ruins–and the city dump. The now–and the mist-shrouded past. It remarks on ever-ascendant youth, flaunting its glories over sturdy age. Mostly it manages this without words, relying instead on Zaritt’s beautiful dancing body, limber and exuberant, and Haim’s graceful, certain elegance of motion. Which age is golden, young or older, now or past? I’d see this again, except for the brutal after-effects of the heavy theatrical haze (that makes such wonderful stage pictures). More than 12 hours later, my eyes, throat and lungs still burn. Fortunately, Golden Age is highly memorable.

The same could not be said Taryn Griggs’ and Chris Yon’s Conspicuous Birds. The two dancers mimic various bird behaviors, while wearing fabulously glittering, wing-sleeved tops over dark pants (costumes by Tiny Yogg’s Ma). The lighting plays marvelously on the fabrics as the dancers move. Clearly, they have closely observed many species of birds, and many of the movement patterns are true and charming. The problem is, the movement doesn’t vary much, but it goes on for a long time. And nothing really happens, dramatically speaking.

Taryn Griggs, L, and Chris Yon in the premiere of Conspicuous Birds at ADF 6/29/15. Photo: Grant Halverson.

Taryn Griggs, L, and Chris Yon in the premiere of Conspicuous Birds at ADF 6/29/15. Photo: Grant Halverson.

After a rousing start with the Overture to Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Small Stories fell silent. Claire Porter and Sarah Juli stood far downstage, one on either side, in satin recital gowns, alternately mouthing words as a single spot alternately separated them from the darkness. The effect was similar to a flashing ad on a web page–very irritating. Eventually the volume increases to audible, but the language remains fragmentary a while longer before actual sentences emerge. After that, the experience is like catching bits of conversation in a moving crowd, or like listening to chickens cluck and fuss while pecking for food. When it got to the stage of the movement artists mockingly mouthing the words to “Che Gelida Manina,” (Pavarotti version) and for no apparent reason pulling up their petticoats to reveal red underpants, my across-the-aisle neighbor (a man renowned for both his courtesy and his passion for music) abruptly decamped. There was nothing I valued in this piece, except for the fact that the makers had had the opportunity to try something.

Sara Juli, front, and Claire Porter in the premiere of their Small Stories at ADF 6/129/15. Photo: Grant Halverson.

Sara Juli, front, and Claire Porter in the premiere of their Small Stories at ADF 6/29/15. Photo: Grant Halverson.

I had to stay, because I had to see what Rosie Herrera and Larry Keigwin had gotten up to together. These two are wacky, brilliant and skillful on their own–what kind of craziness would they make together? Something Wonderful has some pretty wonderful moments, and the piece begins with dancing. Larry Keigwin can move! Such a pleasure to see him again. And Rosie Herrera has an unerring instinct for both motion and stillness, and knows just where to slice with her scalpel, dramatically speaking, so that we can see the forces at work on the human heart. There’s a bit with a poem and a microphone (a little too long) that makes the analogy (perhaps too clearly) between the art-making process and the love-making endeavor that’s so smart and funny that one easily forgives its slight self-indulgence. Bruised, broken, bloodied but unbowed, these artists, tangled up in art, will dance on. In this case, dynamically.

Larry Keigwin and Rosie Herrera in the premiere of Something Wonderful at ADF 6/29/15. Photo: Grant Halverson.

Larry Keigwin and Rosie Herrera in the premiere of Something Wonderful at ADF 6/29/15. Photo: Grant Halverson.

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