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Paul Taylor Dance Company - Offenbach Overtures, Snow White, Promethean Fire
-Onstage with the Dancers

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(www.paultaylor.org)

Paul Taylor, Artistic Director
Norton Belknap, President, Board of Directors
Bettie De Jong, Rehearsal Director
Ross Kramberg, Executive Director
John Tomlinson, General Manager
Jennifer Tipton, Principal Lighting Designer
Santo Loquasto, Principal Set and Costume Designer
Press and Public Relations, Ellen Jacobs, Assoc.

In Performances at City Center
(www.citycenter.org)

Review by Dr. Robert E. Zlokower
Originally Published on ExploreDance.com
March 6, 2003

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.

Offenbach Overtures (1995): Music by Jacques Offenbach, Choreography by Paul Taylor, Costumes by Santo Loquasto, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, Performed by the Company. How fitting that as the ballet season ends, Mr. Taylor serves up a satire to ballet, with this colorful (red and black) campy work, set to Can-Cans and French waltzes, replete with highly effective lighting effects, as the dancers appear at the beginning and end as black silhouettes against a red backdrop. There were sections in which the male dancers preened and groomed each other in sexually suggested jokes, discreet enough for a family audience. To the musical passage of horns, the men in Napoleonic hats and very French, but cute uniforms, provided the central theme of this piece, a spoof and welcome entertainment in these most trying political and economic times in New York. The choreography hinted of ballet, but without the grace and classical demeanor; a klutziness that was both adorable and engaging.

I have to admit that I prefer my ballet in pure form, as can be assumed in my numerous reviews of NYC Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Ballet Hispanico, San Francisco Ballet, etc. However, Mr. Taylor's brilliant Offenbach Overtures has an intrinsic quality of wholesomeness and captivating amusement that deserves to be applauded. My Kudos are extended to Santo Loquasto and Jennifer Tipton, for this amazing visual delight, and to Paul Taylor for injecting humor, as he has done for so many years, in a world that occasionally takes itself too seriously.

Snow White (1983): Music Specially Composed by Donald York, Choreography by Paul Taylor, Costumes by Cynthia O'Neal, Set by David Gropman, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, Performed by Heather Berest, Orion Duckstein, Annmaria Mazzini, Richard Chen See, Andy LeBeau, Takehero Ueyama, Robert Kleinendorst, and James Samson. Talk about humor! This piece was hilarious, and I loved it. The Queen in this favorite fairy tale was a real queen, an all male, Mr. Duckstein, sporting a cape and spindly, long red fingernails, and then re-appearing as a witchier queen with green fingernails, and finally as the Prince, who prances with hand held high and mirror held higher. The Bad Apple is a woman in red, Snow White is beautiful, and the "five" Dwarfs are actually five male dancers, who squat and crawl to appear short and tumbly. These dwarfs are in shades of brown and pastels, for an endearing quality, and re-enact the adoration of their adopted Snow White, as she sleeps from the poisoned apple, and as she awakes from the Prince's kiss.

This is another campy work, with the mirror as a symbol of vanity and shallowness of the royal lifestyle. The set by Mr. Gropman includes gold pillars and poles that frame the opening sequence and serve as the signature, cartoon motif that heralds this upbeat work. Kudos to Mr. Duckstein for his magnificent and poised portrayal of the Drag Queen and Stiff Prince. Kudos to Ms. Mazzini for her adorable characterization as the Bad Apple, who is tricked by the Queen into having her red arm badly bitten, and Kudos to Ms. Berest and the five Dwarfs for rounding out this satirical piece.

Promethean Fire (2002): Music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Orchestrated by Leopold Stokowski, Toccata & Fugue in D minor, Prelude in E-flat minor, and Chorale Prelude, Choreography by Paul Taylor, Costumes by Santo Loquasto, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, Performed by the Company. Now, here is a work that is neither campy nor satirical. This is a serious, yet beautiful, disturbing, yet satisfying piece, which I hope, someday, to see once again. With a black backdrop, black, velvety, unisex unitards, striped in gold, and well-lit dancers, with flaming arms and faces, and mesmerizing organ music by Bach, the Taylor Company injected drama and symbolism of cataclysmic disaster and re-birth. This piece was created after September 11, and it is danced by the entire Company with dynamic and remarkable strength. The choreography interprets the collapse of gothic or architectural shapes and forms into a heap of bodies, perhaps at Ground Zero, perhaps in Hell. Suddenly, one lone male re-emerges from the shapeless pile and symbolically lifts a female, as they survive to rebuild.

There was a most amazing dance by Patrick Corbin and Lisa Viola, with Ms. Viola leaping, mid-air, into Mr. Corbin's waiting arms. These two brought the audience to an endless applause at the final curtain, as their dynamic and bravura performance was so outstanding. During this particular work, I noticed the very strong influence of Martha Graham technique on Mr. Taylor's choreography, especially in the side-kicks, mid-air, the angular arm lifts, some contraction-releases, and sideways, torso and head tilts.

Again, I hope to revisit this work, as it was so complex and creative, with many aesthetic and analytical layers to unwrap. Kudos to Mr. Taylor, with whom I had the honor to speak, during intermission. He is classy and charismatic. And, he stood onstage with his Company for the final applause.


Promethean Fire
Photo courtesy of Lois Greenfield
 

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at zlokower@bestweb.net