There is nothing in the world of contemporary dance that even comes close to Paul Taylor Dance Company’s annual season at City Center, now through Mar 14. The troupe performs in repertory eighteen dances in different combinations over eighteen shows. Because they’ve been doing it for so long (the company is in its 55th year; Taylor celebrates his 80th birthday this year), it’s easy to take this feat for granted. But don’t, because not only is it epic, it’s normal for them.
Typically, a modern dance company prepares one program that runs over the course of a week. Some with more ambition, history and repertory might have two or three programs over a couple of weeks, such as current runs of Lar Lubovitch and Elisa Monte. But the demands of having eighteen dances performance-ready at a given moment are immeasurable—on the dancers, in terms of memory, emotional commitment to each role, the physical toll of rehearsal and performance. On everyone involved in preparing and rehearsing everything to Taylor’s, and rehearsal director Bettie de Jong’s, exacting demands. On the production staff, to plan and prepare costumes and sets, and the logistics of rotating them for each performance. Just to plan the season—factoring in the nature of each piece, the cast involved, the total balance—is protean.
The season structure more resembles that of New York City Ballet on a smaller scale, but even that company has recently simplified its repertory calendar into themes, repeating programs over weeks, or many times a season, with an emphasis on full-length story ballets this past winter season. And it has many times the number of dancers, so injuries can be absorbed without much effect. Taylor’s sixteen athlete/dancers are the pieces in a precisely fitted jigsaw puzzle of a season. They can, and have to, at times, be replaced, but it throws off a carefully crafted equation.
Each performance is a well-balanced combination drawing from Taylor’s deep repertory of dances—abstract/musical, humorous, dark, serious, social commentary, bizarre. Like the cliché goes, each program is like a satisfying, well-balanced three-course meal. Sunset, one of my favorite Taylor dances, returns. To Elgar, it manages to balance poetry, chivalry, camaraderie, and the lunacy of war, gently cramming the emotions of an epic film into 20 minutes or so. Also returning after hiatuses are the feral, intriguing Runes, and Public Domain, which hasn’t been performed in roughly four decades (!). Taylor’s nonpareil deftness with crafting choreographic patterns can be seen, with widely varying tones and musical accompaniment, in Brandenburgs, Syzygy, and Cascade. Included are the new additions to the rep: the humorous Also Playing, and the lyrical, pensive Brief Encounters.
Two subtractions are notable: Arden Court, which had to be the most performed rep work in recent years, and Promethean Fire, perhaps the most potent summation of post-9/11 emotion created. The sublime Beloved Renegade, a recent work, temporarily takes its place as the rep’s epic reflection on mortality, performed with supernatural eloquence by leads Michael Trusnovec and Laura Halzack—both have an astonishing quality of movement that seems as much thought as kinesis.
Image: Annmaria Mazzini and men in Sunset. Photo by Paul B. Goode.