Let Us Now Praise Terpsichore: Paul Taylor Company Returns to ADF

It’s been a tough week in Durham, depressing and humiliating, what with the sneaking Legislature, the obfuscating Governor, the precipitating weather and The New York Times editorial on the decline of North Carolina. But Friday night, July 12, the Paul Taylor Dance Company appeared in the Durham Performing Arts Center, leading off the American Dance Festival‘s fifth week, and for the space of three dances, the world was all beauty and love and grace and delight, elegance and prowess. At first intermission, a friend stopped by my seat, squeezed my hands and murmured, “I feel so much better now.” Yes. The program repeats tonight.

Paul Taylor Dance Company in the joyous Arden Court. Photo: Paul B. Goode.

Paul Taylor Dance Company in the joyous Arden Court. Photo: Paul B. Goode.

Paul Taylor Dance Company, at this mature stage of its life, presents a deluxe kind of modern dance, refined,  polished and clarified in all its aspects. Taylor’s work always makes me think of artist Henri Matisse, and not just for the Calme, Luxe et Volupté feeling. In Taylor’s choreography there is a similar play by the artist between line and mass, between color and line, and always an exactitude about where precisely each body is in space. Taylor is aided in achieving his glowing visions by the very best set, costume and lighting designers, so that the entire visual experience activates a sensual response in the viewer. In the first two pieces in this program, the sets and costumes are by the great Santo Loquasto, and in the ineffably sweet Perpetual Dawn (2013) that opens the performance, I marveled at how his swirling liquid fabrics allowed Taylor’s larger shapes and furling motions to be seen more clearly. Under James F. Ingalls delicate lighting, Taylor’s choreography would beguile even a jaded crone, as the dancers freshly encounter love’s spring morning to the accompaniment of selections from the Dresden Concerti by Johann David Heinichen.

Taylor has a whole emotive language of beautiful hand and arm movements that are easily interpreted, and his use of them, along with lifts and carries, means that the dancers are often physically touching each other. The are not isolated. They are attentive. Together pairs and groups they engage in risky feats which require not just muscle and nerve, but trust and commitment. All these qualities make Taylor’s work a balm. Some of his most powerful work is tied to contemporary social conditions or occurrences (e.g., Promethean Fire, post 9-11) but some of it is timeless in the best sense–even when its sets its hour at dawn, or Eventide.

In Eventide (1997), we see lovers again, this time in the superb lighting by Jennifer Tipton. This dance is even more lovely and considerably more affecting than Perpetual Dawn. Experience has made its way through the intervening hours, and the lovers at evening have a different awareness–they voyaged away from innocence toward passion. Heather McGinley and Francisco Graciano were fabulous in the “Molto Perpetuo” section of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Suite for Viola and Orchestra (the dance also use his Hymn-Tune Prelude, No. 1), and in the “Musette” section, the noble-bodied Michael Trusnovec danced magnificently with the elegant Paris Khobdeh.

The evening ends with the full-blown rose of Arden Court (1981), a joyous frolic and tour-de-force of human geometry, danced to excerpts from five symphonies by William Boyce. Lighting is again by Tipton, so even though it’s not all that bright, everything rings with clarity. The highly decorated close-fitting costumes are by Gene Moore, who reveals glorious anatomy while preserving modesty. Here we see many of Taylor’s most enduring qualities: his humor, his reaching for the sky, his uncanny skill at drawing line and shape while maintaining motion’s flow. Watching it is like receiving a transfusion of happiness. Certainly this program gives a reprieve from desperate times requiring desperate measures, and maybe strength to rally another day. Praise Terpsichore.

Uh, haven’t I seen a lot of this before? Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company returns to ADF

Hazard warnings:

Too-loud sound; strobe lighting; way-much theatrical smoke; boredom.

I know, the boredom is really unexpected.

If you’ve seen Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company at the American Dance Festival in previous years, you may find Air Condition a bit of a warmed-over hash. If not, know that this is not aerial dance at its most glorious. Check the videos on the company site before shelling out for a ticket. Read my review, published 6/6/2013 on http://www.cvnc.org.

Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company. Photo: James Arias and Carlos Furman.

Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company. Photo: James Arias and Carlos Furman.

ADF Takes A.I.M to DPAC: Kyle Abraham’s Stunning Style Goes Big

Kyle Abraham, who appeared for the first time last year at the American Dance Festival with his marvelous dance The Radio Show, is back this year with a two-performance run on the big stage at the Durham Performing Arts Center. He and his company Abraham.In.Motion danced Abraham’s ambitious work Pavement on June 28; the program repeats tonight, June 29. Abraham is starting to look like a new-generation Bill T. Jones. His intellectualism is not yet as deep or pointed, but he is showing a penchant for making dances about Big Stuff–without scrimping on the dancing. At least at this early stage of his career, Abraham allows more emotion to show than Jones generally does. I believe that is a good thing for the art, since its there for a reason, not as a crutch.

Kyle Abraham in Pavement. Photo: Steven Schreiber.

Kyle Abraham in Pavement. Photo: Steven Schreiber.

Abraham is a beautiful dancer (see above–look at those hands, their elegance in relation to the legs and feet), and his company all move beautifully in his style, which is a heart-stretching amalgam of ballet, modern and street dancing. He seems to have crafted this style in aid of an almost cinematic narrative form of dance theatre, and mostly it works very well. The new piece Pavement returns us to Abraham’s hometown of Pittsburgh, also the source for The Radio Show. But Pavement shows tough times in the town that was previously such a beacon for black culture. Very early on, we see a young black man laid face down on the pavement, his hands crossed in the small of his back, as if in handcuffs. This happens over and over during the piece, and the tenderness of the movements only serve to make it more searing.

Overall, Pavement could use a little tightening up. It wanders and gets a bit murky in the middle, and the balance between theatre and dance is wobbly throughout. For this viewer, there was some confusion at times about who was what to whom, as many characters flow through the seven bodies on stage. But again and again, Pavement reels you in with a powerful scene, powerfully danced. Abraham is clearly going to be a force in American dance in the 21st century, as we continue to sort out history and search for a fresh cultural vitality. A few slow spots just give the viewer time to catch up with Abraham.In.Motion.

A.I.M in a scene from Kyle Abraham's Pavement. Photo: Steven Schreiber.

A.I.M in a scene from Kyle Abraham’s Pavement. Photo: Steven Schreiber.

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