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.

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