Paul Taylor always puts together programs that juxtapose his dances in ways that allow his ideas to rub up against each other. They are as carefully composed as a gallery of paintings, curated along certain thought-lines. Now in his 80s—this is his company’s 58th year—Taylor is still an active dancemaker. He can place his newest work in relief against explorations of related themes, chosen from across the decades. For the Paul Taylor Dance Company’s appearance at the 2012 American Dance Festival in the Durham Performing Arts Center July 20-21, the program might have been called “Theme and Variations on Sexual Attraction.”
It opens with Aureole, from 1962. The three women and two men, all in white, frolic to Handel (from Jephtha, and the Concerti Grossi in C and F) against a blue backdrop in glowing gentle light, miming the games and rituals of dawning sexuality. They are light, skipping and jumping, yet the steps always have the characteristic Taylor drag or friction that testifies to earthy groundedness. It’s open, flirtatious, teasing—full of potential and noble intentions. If you need an image for “noble,” simply look at Michael Trusnovec when he kneels, one leg stretched back, and opens his arms. On the 20th, he was magnificent in every posture of strength and every moment of graceful motion. Aureole is so beautiful, so complete in what it is, and so perfectly bound to the music, that I get quite blissed out by it. Sort of like falling in love.
From there, Taylor launches us over to the dark side of lewd lust in the grotesque Big Bertha, one of what I think of as his Americana dances. There is nothing noble here. It’s lust, power, despoliation, violence, degradation. Only regular stuff, not the stuff of dreams. Needless to say, it’s very disturbing, and placing it right after the immaculate Aureole only magnifies its brutality.
Even though it followed an intermission, the new work Gossamer Gallants seemed a little tainted by Big Bertha. When it began, though, I thought for minute the ghost of Pilobolus Past had risen—all those acid green Lycra glowworms and dark-marked fireflies rushing around in pulsing groups. It’s Taylor for sure, though: We see the insects in sexual display, sexual pursuit and sexual predation. The basic message seems to be, their DNA makes them do it. It’s all very lively, with lots of nice dancing (some ritual bits reminiscent of Aureole), but with a deathy edge. In the end the females kill the males. One, who did not mate with a female, scuttles away at the end. Hmmm. However, just like real fireflies, Gossamer Gallants is awfully fun to watch.
Finally, we come to knowledgeable, controlled lust, ritualized and drawn out for mutual pleasure, in the 1997 Piazzolla Caldera, set to tango music by Astor Piazzolla and Jerzy Peterburshsky. It was gorgeously danced on the 20th, really charged and steamy, so that it became more than a dance about tango dancing. Michael Trusnovec was electric, almost incendiary. Every year, I think: this is it, this is Trusnovec at the peak of his prime, but each year he is better, embodying Taylor’s complex ideas with ever greater precision, clarity and passion.