The concept of legacy is everywhere now in the dance world. Merce Cunningham Dance Company is giving its final American theater performances at BAM this week, leading up to a send-off event at Park Avenue Armory on New Year’s Eve, and then poof, sniff!, they disseminate, presumably into other lucky companies and schools. Meanwhile, at City Center, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater begins a new era under Robert Battle’s artistic direction (through January 2). A major aesthetic shift this season is to present Paul Taylor’s Arden Court (video), and going by a recent New York Times interview with Taylor and Battle, it’s the first of many dances by Taylor to be performed by Ailey. The connection makes sense: Battle honed his professional skills with the company of David Parsons, one of Taylor’s dancers, and Battle studied with PTDC alum Carolyn Adams.
AAADT’s rendering raises the question: must it look like the original company? Because to state the predictable, AAADT has a long way to go before it does justice to Taylor’s style in that respect. For sure, Arden Court is a challenging dance which plays with the very concept of time—a passage full of level changes is performed, and then done double time. There are also glacial promenades and precision interactions between partners. Where Paul Taylor Dance Company makes it look breezy and legible, AAADT powers through some sections, blurring connections, edges, and crispness. And I don’t always think of PTDC as balletic, but the dancers perform the choreography with a simultaneous levity and groundedness that places them—perfectly balanced—in our atmosphere. (Their inaugural Lincoln Center run begins March 14.) Some of Ailey’s dancers may jump higher (and some certainly look like they’re trying), but there’s a weightiness to the men, in particular, that evokes a car with challenging aerodynamics. And those very prominent shoulder muscles actually seem to constrict the range of motion of the mens’ arms. (Also, is it too much to ask to be able to do a cartwheel?) It should be noted that the women seemed far more at ease in Arden Court, but it’s really a showcase for the guys.
In the end, there’s no reason to expect them to perform Taylor’s work like his own company does. AAADT simply doesn’t have the experience—it’s not in their bones, muscles, blood, nor is it likely that it will be, even if the company takes on many more of Taylor’s works, unless they all take one of PTDC’s intensive workshops. Like Cunningham, it takes years of developing specific muscles and honing movements, but the thing about Taylor’s style, in contrast, is that it looks doable. Okay, maybe not the overhead presses, the flying leaps and crashes to the floor, the full-throttle speed… but break it down, and you think, yeah, my body can make those shapes. But think twice, and trust that with each Taylor dance added, AAADT will refine its interpretation of his style.
PS—ABT/Bolshoi Ballet’s David Hallberg appeared on the Colbert Report last night, where not only did Stephen try to paint him as a double agent, his host donned tights (albeit black, under his navy blazer) and leaped around as David partnered Hee Seo in some variations from The Nutcracker, opening next week. Silly? Of course, but great exposure for this one-of-a-kind star who could really vault ballet (and not just the Black Swan kind) into the public consciousness.