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.

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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