Paul Taylor Dance Company is performing 19 works in nearly three weeks at City Center, through March 15. This is both a gift and a curse. The sheer breadth of his work is dazzling, and it is brought into stunning clarity by his amazing company of 16. The downside is choosing which programs to see.
Breadth, you say? I can hear some eyes rolling from here. Some people think they know everything about Paul Taylor, whose company has been around since 1954. Yes, Taylor has developed his own modern language, the basics of which become as identifiable as ballet’s fundamentals. A run with straight arms alternating and head in opposition, a jump with bent legs and curved arms… familiar. But what he has done is turn this language—this elegant, reliable modern vocabulary—into the foundation on top of which he builds his ideas, structures, patterns. It is so familiar that it’s easy to take for granted, or peg as merely repetitive, but I see it more like ballet—infinitely malleable.
With rare exception, Taylor puts together each program so that each of the three works forms a beginning, middle, and end. There is usually a lyrical work that may revolve more around the music than anything; a humorous one, or one that follows a story with characters; and a closer, often full of epic patterns and magnificent tableaus. Promethean Fire (clip here below) is a perfect example.
Tradition has it that one “closer,” Esplanade, (clip here) a masterpiece that touches myriad dark and light emotional notes, closes out the City Center season, which is the Mt. Everest of the company’s annual schedule. Not so this season, for the first time in memory. It will be Beloved Renegade, his newest work set to Poulenc with inspiration from poems by Walt Whitman. It is a breathtakingly gorgeous, major dance that speaks eloquently to one of his favorite topics, mortality. The lead pair, Laura Halzack and Michael Trusnovec, dance their final duet with a sublime, ethereal quality. And while it is not by definition a cheery ending, it is no doubt a showstopper.
It should also be pointed out that this is the first City Center season without both Lisa Viola and Richard Chen See, longtime company favorites. Viola ended Esplanade with a moving greeting/parting gesture, so it is perhaps in homage to her that Esplanade is at least temporarily rotated out of this spot.
Each year brings with it repertory revivals to look forward to. Of this year’s, I’m especially anticipating Le Sacre du Printemps, with its flattened archaic style and its surreal props; Scudorama, a seminal work which hasn’t been performed here in over 40 years; and Last Look, with its dizzying, adrenalized house of mirrors. The devilish Mercuric Tidings has much-welcome new costumes. Also on the schedule is s recent work set to The Mamas & the Papas, Changes, a lively suite that slyly records the good and bad trends of the 60s. Of particular note is Jennifer Tipton’s amazing lighting in this work and throughout much of Taylor’s rep, plus Santo Loquasto’s costume design. Go with an open mind and reap the rewards.
Photo of Michael Trusnovec in Beloved Renegade by Wiley Price.