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.
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.
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.
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.”