Paul Taylor Dance Company - Airs, In The Beginning, Piazzolla Caldera
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Paul Taylor, Artistic Director
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Bettie De Jong, Rehearsal Director
Wallace Chappell, Executive Director
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Jennifer Tipton, Principal Lighting Designer
Santo Loquasto, Principal Set and Costume Designer
Press, Jennifer Lerner
In Performances at City Center
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 3, 2004
Originally Published on ExploreDance.com
Years ago, Paul Taylor danced with my Modern Dance Master Class at Skidmore College. For many years, I have been part of Mr. Taylor's devoted audience and have seen him as an inspiring dancer and as a creative choreographer. Mr. Taylor has been one of my long-time heroes of the Arts. He always sits in the audience, watching his Company perform. And, he always stands onstage, as did his mentor, Martha Graham, to accept accolades, after the final curtain. Mr. Taylor obviously delights in the success of his Company and loyal advisors, and, in fact, Ms. Bettie De Jong, whom I had seen as one of Mr. Taylor's original soloists and as his dance partner, has been with the Taylor Company for over 40 years and is currently his Rehearsal Director.
Paul Taylor grew up near Washington, DC and studied dance at Juilliard. He first presented his own company and original choreography in 1954. For seven years, he was a soloist with the Martha Graham Dance Company and continued to create dances for his own company. In 1959 he was a Guest Artist and danced with the New York City Ballet, and, since 1975, he has concentrated on his choreography. Mr. Taylor has won dozens of awards, such as the National Medal of Arts from President Clinton in 1993, a 1992 Emmy Award for Speaking in Tongues, and a 1992 Kennedy Center Honor. He was elected to Knighthood by the French Government and in 2000 was awarded Legion d'Honneur for contributions to French culture. He has received numerous honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees from prestigious colleges, including Skidmore, where I first met him, many years ago. The Paul Taylor Dance Company is a sought after troupe and tours extensively around the globe. Visit www.paultaylor.org for the latest tour dates.
Airs (1978): Music by G. F. Handel (Excerpts from Concerti Grossi), Choreography by Paul Taylor, Costumes by Gene Moore, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, Performed by Lisa Viola, Richard Chen See, Silvia Nevjinsky, Andy LeBeau, Orion Duckstein, Amy Young, and Parisa Khobdeh. Over the years, I have seen this piece performed numerous times. Yet, tonight was special. There was a particular lightness and seriousness of style that seemed more noticeable now, and I focused on the exquisite imagery of the deep blue background and lighter, chiffony costumes. Ms. Viola and Mr. Chen See were notably lyrical, fluid, and particularly poised. In fact, Ms. Viola never looked better, as her timing was instantaneous to the Concerti, while other dancers seemed to present a more rapid interpretation. I noticed a hint of Graham styled contractions, less percussive and more understated than those included in the Graham dances. (Mr. Taylor was, of course, a member of the Graham Company for seven years). Kudos to Paul Taylor for this timeless and uplifting work.
Tonight's lighting decisions were also notable, as the house lights were completely dark, during and after the performances, until intermission or the time to leave was evident. Thus, the focus was onstage at all times for the benefit of and accolades for the performers. Additionally, the stage seemed brilliantly cast, in the ethereal or emphatic spotlights.
In the Beginning (2003): Music by Carl Orff (Excerpts from Carmina Burana and Der Mond), Orchestrated by Friedrich K. Wanek, Choreography by Paul Taylor, Sets and Costumes by Santo Loquasto, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, Performed by Andy LeBeau as Jehovah, Robert Kleinendorst, Richard Chen See, James Samson, and Sean Mahoney as Adam, Silvia Nevjinsky, Annmaria Mazzini, Heather Berest, Amy Young, and Michelle Fleet as Eve, and the Cast as Heavens and Earth, Tree of Knowledge, Naked and Not Ashamed, Naked and Afraid, Conceived and Born, Thou Shalt Not, Sent Forth from the Garden, and Unto Dust Returned.
This is a fairly new piece and somewhat silly at times. I was a bit disappointed at the overall campiness without serious depth or levels of literary import. I thought the large circular backdrops of nighttime constellations, apples of Eden, rambling brambles, flying doves, and finally a lovely rainbow were extremely effective in setting the environmental motif for each dance and for the mood, as well. The costumes were interesting and a bit reminiscent of Nijinska's Russian ballet, Les Noces, with folkloric dresses and pants, but without the long wigs and everlasting percussion. Au contraire, this was a "humorous" work, with sexy temptations of apples and Eves, with babies being born through the legs of the dancers, prior to their thumb-sucking, fetal dances and their group banishment from the Garden of Eden. Andy LeBeau, as Jehovah, commanded the stage with presence and self-possession. His long biblical coats in black or white, tall hat, and charismatic demeanor were quite effective, but could have been more meaningful with more depth to this work and fewer, fetal birth scenes. Kudos to Santo Loquasto for sets and costumes.
Piazzolla Caldera (1997): Music by Astor Piazzolla and Jerzy Peterburshsky (Gidon Kremer's Recording of Hommage à Piazzolla), Choreography by Paul Taylor, Set and Costumes by Santo Loquasto, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, performed by Lisa Viola, Richard Chen See, Silvia Nevjinsky, Andy LeBeau, Michael Trusnovec, Annmaria Mazzini, Orion Duckstein, Robert Kleinendorst, Julie Tice, James Samson, Michelle Fleet, and Sean Mahoney.
As a long time Argentine Tango dancer, I take Tango as dance and Tango as music quite seriously. Many Modern Dance companies have replicated the passion of this sensual and fiery dance in a watered down, less than passionate or less than technically appropriate style. Piazzolla Caldera has extrapolated the essence of the Tango to a certain extent. It happens that the Gidon Kremer CD, Hommage à Piazzolla, is one of my favorites and one I have brought to private Tango lessons. It a mournful and soulful Chamber interpretation of Astor Piazzolla's most searing music for performance dancing and listening. It contains an emotional yearning, mixed with intonations of angst, survival, and revenge. In order to appropriately use this particular CD, one would have to choreograph real Tango dances or non-Tango dances that extract and exude the quintessential essence of this very deep and very dark mood.
The Pablo Neruda quote that appears on the written program is well chosen for its description of "...flawed confusion of human beings...". Yet, the dance, itself, while mostly containing the mood of Tango does not include the Tango dance, as such. Tango has a posture of leaning, leg movements, and twisted torsos. In performance, the man wears the black fedora, and one cannot fit a dime between the chests of the partners in closed embrace, and, in open embrace, there is still a gravity pull and push that propels the partners in dual magnetic movement. The Taylor dancers, however, did not seem coached by an authentic Tango dance teacher, although there were bits and pieces that appeared to be LIKE Tango. However, the dancing was dazzling and daring.
Lighting and costumes were rare and exciting, and the addition of the fedoras would be welcome. Dresses, suspenders, pants, stockings, and shoes had the bordello quality of the earliest Tangos, and the suspended light bulbs with cloth décor against the thick darkness of the stage were all indigenous to Buenos Aires and the songs of Tango. Annmaria Mazzini, as the lonely woman longing for love, was very reminiscent of the loneliness of a Tanguera, looking for the feeling of passion, as she matches chemistry with the chance partner. But, the campiness here was not in keeping with this touching and tender music that evokes seriousness and sensuality, the soul of Tango. I recommend listening to Kremer's interpretations among others, as well as to Piazzolla's original recordings, with the composer on bandoneón. Kudos to Jennifer Tipton for superb lighting effects.
Paul Taylor Dance Company - Airs
Photo courtesy of Paul Goode
Paul Taylor Dance Company - In The Beginning
Photo courtesy of Paul Goode
Paul Taylor Dance Company - Piazzolla Caldera
Photo courtesy of Paul Goode