Paul Taylor Dance Company Closes ADF 2016 (a love note to Micheal Trusnovec)

The 83rd season of the American Dance Festival closes tonight, with the last performance, by the Paul Taylor Dance Company, beginning at 7 p.m. in the DPAC, where there was a very good house last night for the first of the company’s two performances.

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Snow White includes some notable similarities to the great Promethean Fire. Paul Taylor Dance Company, ADF, 7/29/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

But it is a slightly odd program. It opens with a strange version of Snow White (1983), which seems to be a caricature of Disney’s cartoon version of the old fairy tale with its very definite morality. Despite Parisa Khobdeh’s delightful frolicking as Snow White, and Heather McGinley’s enticing playfulness as the Bad Apple, the apotheosis of the evil stepmother into Prince Boring, and the cavorting and tumbling of the “dwarves,”the piece was…blah. It wasn’t ferociously funny, or scary, or beautiful or wickedly sarcastic. (I can’t believe I’m about to say this:) It was a mediocre rehash made with a dull knife. The only really interesting thing to me was seeing how Taylor had built a key component of Promethean Fire–the table-like structure of bodies that supports the entire pyramid of bodies–as earlier as 1983–and how much of the movement in Snow White seemed a response to the early work of Pilobolus.

But onward to the past. Next come two rich, and related, works from 1979 and 1977, Profiles and Images. Profiles, set to a score composed for the work by Jan Radzynski, harks back to Nijinsky’s famous dance style, which emphasized his profile, as well as to the stylized depictions decorating ancient Greek pottery. Danced by a standout quartet, it is both elegant and really funny, especially when the dancers cross the stage while maintaining the bent knees, raised arms and flat level hands of their pottery positions, and keep their profiles to us all the while. Michael Trusnovec excelled at this funny scuttling, his upper body elegant and noble, his face in profile a carved mask, his feet shuffling and making tiny hops. There are also some surprising lifts and agglomeration of bodies–which really seem like bare bodies, in their thin, toned to skin, unitards–and some beautiful moments in all the sections.

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The gorgeous quartet in Profiles. Trusnovec, left, with Michael Novak, Eran Bugge and Laura Halzack. The Paul Taylor Dance Company, ADF, 7/129/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

Images, set to selections from the colorful Debussy works, Images–Book I; Children’s Corner Suite and Pour le Piano–uses some of the same stylized gestures, but for this piece, the visual inspiration came from ancient Minoan Crete. Laura Halzack was magnificent as the Oracle, in a costume lifted straight off the famous Minoan Snake Goddess statue. All the costumes, by Gene Moore, are delightful, bridging the millenia between the Bronze Age Cretan civilization and the early 20th century. I have very particular colors associated with the Debussy music, and the designer was on my synesthetic wavelength with the glowing patches that colored the women’s skirts. This dance has all the beautiful Paul Taylor tropes: the interest in ritual; the seamless flow between topical sections and between full cast and smaller groupings; the interjection of joyous frolic into the reverence; the balance between repetition and sudden change; the synchronous dancing by two or more; the complete integration of dance with music. It may have been performed here, sometime in all the years PTDC has been coming, but I’d never seen it, and was entranced. And–this performance included Michael Trusnovec dancing with the women in the “Totem Horses” section. I know, I know, I have a terrible crush on Trusnovec, but you gotta love a man who can pick up a woman on each arm and dance them around, while making it look like he’s riding a spirit horse.

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Michael Trusnovec in Images. Paul Taylor Dance Company on stage at the DPAC. ADF, 7/29/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

Profiles and Images would have made a fairly meaty program on their own, but the evening closes with another reprise of the Taylor masterwork, Promethean Fire. Commissioned by the ADF, it premiered here in 2002. Apparently I was struck dumb and did not review, but here is Anna Kisselgoff’s beautiful writing; and here is my review from 2004, and my review from 2008, all of which include much description. (You can also click Paul Taylor Dance Company in the Tags to see my reviews of other Taylor programs for the last 3 years.)

The dance has lost nothing over time; indeed, it has gained in power as the world has further darkened. It is such a memorable dance, as a whole, that I’m having a hard time believing that it had been five years since it was danced here, so clear were the images in my mind’s eye. Yet, like any great artwork, Promethean Fire gives itself to you anew and differently each time you approach it. (For instance, I’d never noticed before how much the men’s costumes resemble firefighters’ overalls, with their square-cut necklines.) This must have been the fifth time I’d seen it, and while I was not as emotionally flattened as the first time, still the tears came as the planes swooped in. Taylor is a master at flipping the emotional content of an image: at the work’s opening, the wide-armed figures held aloft indicate the terror planes of 9/11–but at the end, the same image becomes one of beacons of protection, welcome and hope. The great Trusnovec led the full cast, this time with Parisa Khobdeh. Just before the final scene, pictured below, the pair brilliantly executed a series of whirling turns with such precision and force that I could have died happy right then. But they whirl into stalwart stasis: we are commanded to stand strong under the open sky, to hold the fort and hold each other and let fire “thy light relume.”

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The Paul Taylor Dance Company at the end of Promethean Fire, with Parisa Khobdeh and Michael Trusnovec, center. ADF, 7/29/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

 

WALK in The Gardens with Vanessa Voskuil: More ADF Footprints

The American Dance Festival 2016’s Footprints program was bifurcated this time, with the second part occurring in Duke Gardens July 28-30. Part Two, featuring a work by Vanessa Voskuil, takes place in and around the heron fountain circle, and should you be quailing at the idea of standing around outside in the heat, know that the circle is well shaded by the 7 p.m. start time. FREE.

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A horizontal moment in Vanessa Voskuil’s WALK. ADF in Duke Gardens, 7/28/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

This outdoor venue provides a much better setting for Vanessa Voskuil’s choreography than Reynolds Theater did three years ago. It allows her to work with the indefinite and the random, and to create with shape and movement on a large scale, without the contrivance and constriction required by a theater. Walk is without a clear moment of beginning, and the end is equally indefinite. The dancers move among the people who’ve come to see them, and the many others who find themselves in the midst of something as they transit the circle on their own trajectories. It’s a sweetly worded statement of this dancer’s understanding of the relationship of dancing and living–that we are all part of the performance.

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This exquisitely balanced figure eventually brought her crown to the fountain–a timeless image within the larger timeless image. WALK, ADF, 7/28/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

Voskuil described the dance as a series of solos–but they are simultaneous solos by the 16 dancers (I think there were 16, but not ever seeing them all at once, it was hard to keep count). Many things of a ritualistic nature are walked and danced in a very slow tightening circle around the grand fountain. There’s little in the way of music, but the dancers all move at the same slow pace, smooth, almost tranced, and very liquid in their actions. There are echoes of some great modern choreographers, from Isadora Duncan on, and several of the young Terpsichores wear sneakers.

The basic image, of dancers in circling in nature, predates history, I feel certain. It’s an archetype; it cannot be reduced to a cliche. As an archetype, the great circle dance provides endless nourishment to art, and Walk is a smart response to its impetus. Voskuil recreates something primal– as art; and creates it not in nature, but in the artificial nature of a garden.

Perhaps because I know that Voskuil is from Minneapolis, MN, and because I lived there for a year when I was 12 and was much affected by the glacial landscape with its thousands of ponds and lakes, watching this dance threw up memories of people circling those small bodies of water–walking, cycling, skating, sailing, twisting in and out, each person on his or her own mission, projecting a line of motion that wove neatly through all the other lines. One thinks, too, while watching Walk, of Seurat’s La Grade Jatte, with its ritual promenading by the water, its parasols and late shadows, its rhythms receding into the distance. As a dance, Walk cannot indulge long in motionless monumentality, but its slow weaving and turning around the water’s edge invoke timelessness nonetheless.

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WALK by the water. Vanessa Voskuil’s piece in Duke Gardens comprises the second part of the ADF 2016 Footprints program. 7/28/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

Snazzy Socks Kick Off FOOTPRINTS, in ADF’s Final Week

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The student ensemble in Dafi Albtabeb’s IT’S NOW. IT’S NEVER, in the ADF Footprints program, 7/25/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

Sometimes the Footprints program, which occurs near the end of the American Dance Festival summer season, includes dances in which the ADF 6 week students learn a classic dance by a great choreographer of the past, their feet re-impressing the blurring footprints of history so that it may continue to inform the present. But this year, all three dances by the youngish choreographers in the Footprints program indicate the trail toward the future. These brand-new pieces are performed by the talented young dancers who come to the ADF School to further their training and begin their careers.

The evening’s first work is by Dafi Albtabeb (with Nini Moshe), the Israeli choreographer whose work was included in the 5 x 5 program earlier this season. Ostensibly, It’s Now. It’s Never is about the variability of memories, the way they change slightly with each recall. This idea is clearer at some moments than at others during the dance, which is composed of large chunks of movement that fit uneasily together, and some sections that go on a bit longer than really needed, as well as an opening sequence that struck me as slightly nasty (everyone’s pants were down around their ankles), all set to fragments of this and that sound and music. However much it may need further development, the work includes some vivid shape-making and some supercharged dancing, and who could complain when the stage swirls with a confetti of colorfully-clad bodies?

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Beth Gill’s FOOTPRINTS under David Ferri’s inventive lighting, in the ADF Footprints program, 7/25/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

Beth Gill’s Footprints is whole already, and absorbing from the first moment, when student dancer Joyce D. Edwards takes the stage like a queen in a purple crushed velvet unitard. Her dancing was controlled and elegant, her lines distinct and beautiful. I could have watched her alone all night, but soon she was joined by others, also in wonderfully colored costumes, all gliding along in a magical way to music by Atom TM, unfolding like flowers and scuttling about with the oblivious grace of nocturnal animals. ADF staff lighting genius David Ferri, who designed the lighting for the whole program, has outdone himself on the lighting effects for this piece, with delicate washes of color, and the light bubbles pictured above. The lush costumes are by John Brinkman (he did all the costumes for the Footprints program). The choreography’s full of surprises, but they don’t ambush you and beat you on the head with their knobby ideas. I was reminded of how I felt when I first began seriously reading poetry: mystified and satisfied and hungrier than when I started. It is getting harder and harder to find a dance that defies verbalization, but this is one.

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Lee Sher and Saar Harari’s new choreography, BUNKER, was powerfully performed by the student cast in ADF’s Footprints program, 7/25/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

The program concludes with new work by Lee Sher and Saar Harari of LeeSaar The Company, set on ten advanced students, all of whom seemed to either be already trained in or natural to the full-bodied Gaga style. It was fantastic to see what Sher and Harari could do with a large group of dancers! I found Bunker very unsettling, due to its military references and soldierly behaviors (someone quipped that it must be the Israeli army, as the members of this unit are mostly female). But neither the images nor the narrative are so literal as to dilute the ambiguity inherent in soldiering. The paradox remains: the comrades in the bunker have each others’ backs, but they are all stone killers. They preserve (or try to) their culture and values by destroying those of others. Beauty is not the point in Bunker, but power is, and it is emphasized by the army green costuming that chops up the line of the leg to focus the eye on the forceful musculature of thigh and buttock. The costumes help, but the real power is in the dancing of movement written with bold honesty by the choreographers, performed at full throttle by the ensemble. The viewer may be kept mentally off-balance by the shifting emotional tone of the musical selections, but her body will rejoice in sympathy with the balance and freedom of the dancers.

This excellent selection of Footprints continues July 26-27 in Reynolds Theater; its second part, an outdoor dance by Vanessa Voskuil, will take place in Duke Gardens July 28-30. The Gardens dance is free; tickets here for the Reynolds performances. The ADF 2016 grand finale will take place in the DPAC July 29-30, with the Paul Taylor Dance Company.

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