ADF: Paul Taylor: Dance Until You Drop

The Paul Taylor Dance Company in Marathon Cadenzas. Photo: Paul B. Goode.

The Paul Taylor Dance Company in Marathon Cadenzas. Photo: Paul B. Goode.


Leaving the annual American Dance Festival presentation of the Paul Taylor Dance Company at the Durham Performing Arts Center last night, I eavesdropped on two women who’d loved the performance.

Woman One: “The truth is really overrated.”

Woman Two: “Oh, I agree. All this stuff about problems and war and everyday things…”

Woman One: “I mean, the truth is fine and all, but you don’t have to talk about it!”

While I’d hardly say that the truth is absent from Paul Taylor’s choreography, or his company’s dancing–quite the opposite, in fact–I think I know what those women meant.

The news has been unusually bad this week all over. To gaze at a stageful of beautiful humans engaged in the  high craft and mystery of making glorious art, sculpting with their bodies a purer world out of light and air and sound…well, it makes a person want to live to fight the culture wars another day.

Paul Taylor has been presenting his choreography since 1954, and he continues dance making today, although preparations are underway for his company, for the first time, to begin working with other choreographers. Next year, we may see something different. But this year’s program is all Taylor, with the new piece sandwiched between two works from the 1970s.

Marathon Cadenzas (2014), an ADF commission in honor of the company’s 60th birthday, premiered in New York this spring. It is not the most powerful Taylor work ever (though design and costumes by Santo Loquasto are strong), but its message is perfectly clear. Based on the dance marathons that took place during really hard times, where hungry couples strove to be the last standing and take home the prize that could stave off starvation if only they had stamina enough, it could be read as a parable of the artistic life. Take your talent and your love and work them without respite through every competition and in the end, you may get a meal(ticket). Dance until you drop. You’re going to drop anyway, may as well dance.

Michael Trusnovec, center, feet off the ground in Marathon Cadenzas at the Durham Performing Arts Center, 7-18-14. Photo: Grant Halverson, ©ADF.

Michael Trusnovec, center, both feet off the DPAC stage in Marathon Cadenzas at the ADF,  7-18-14.  Photo: Grant Halverson, ©ADF.


It’s not necessary to think about all that truth, though. You can just revel in the pleasure–something made very easy by the first piece on the program, the comic Diggity (1978), with its endearing set of cut-out dog figures and closely-toned costumes by Alex Katz (under magically even lighting by Jennifer Tipton). How wonderful when a dance makes laughter bubble out of the audience, the laughter of uncomplicated happiness. The dance includes, among all the frolics, some swell sequences in which the men lift one woman aloft to show off some very fancy tricks.

Michael Novak, Michael Apuzzo, George Smallwood and Michael Trusnovec in the men’s dance from Cloven Kingdom, at the ADF @DPAC, 7-18-14.         Photo: Grant Halverson, ©ADF.

The final work of the night is the fantastic Cloven Kingdom (1976). If you’ve never seen this, I encourage you to go tonight. It is classic Taylor, with the beautiful and the strange, the old-fashioned and the futuristic, the reassuring and the frightening, racing through each other as the beautiful bodies fly and tumble across the stage. Eight women in silver slippers and billowing  jewel-toned gowns, and four men in black and white formal clothes flow and syncopate on and off the stage in a symphony of color and shadow. At the dance’s center is a ferocious, angular piece for the men that will engrave itself on your brain. And then there are the headdresses and helmets that turn the dancers into human disco balls. It is all wonderful.

Not the least of its wonders is Michael Trusnovec. It strikes me as somewhat of a miracle that, because we are so lucky as to live in the same town as the American Dance Festival, we can watch, year by year, great dancers on the turning wheel of time. Trusnovec has been with the Taylor company since 1998, longer than any of the other current dancers. We’ve seen him as an incredibly talented young man, still immortal in his joints and his daring; we’ve seen him in the full glory of his prime, flesh full and powerful but controlled by will and practice. Now we see him fined down closer to the bone, elegant, strong but not jumping so freely. Now every gesture and each inclination of the body must carry more meaning, and they do. He was absolutely splendid in Cloven Kingdom last night, more electric, crisper in his attitudes and sharper in his turns, than anyone else on stage (this is saying a lot). I could recognize him from the back with a disco helmet over his face, upstage behind eleven other dancers. I’m trying not to mourn in advance, but one year–he won’t be back. Don’t miss this moment.


Go until you can't go no more. Paul Taylor's Marathon Cadenzas. Photo: Paul B. Goode.

Go until you can’t go no more. Paul Taylor’s Marathon Cadenzas. Photo: Paul B. Goode.

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.

Michael Trusnovec leads inspired dancing as ADF hosts Paul Taylor

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.”

Paul Taylor Dance Company in Aureole. Photo: Tom Caravaglia

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.

Paul Taylor Dance Company in Gossamer Gallants. Photo: Tom Caravaglia.

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.

Paul Taylor Dance Company in Piazolla Caldera. Photo: Paul B. Goode.

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