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Paul Taylor's American Modern Dance: The Weight of Smoke, The Open Door, Brandenburgs

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Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance
551 Grand Street, Top Floor
New York, NY, 10002

Phone: 212.431.5562

(Taylor American Modern Dance Website)

Paul Taylor, Artistic Director
Music Director and Conductor, Donald York
Featuring the Paul Taylor Dance Company
And Lyon Opera Ballet

Music Performed Live by:
Orchestra of St. Luke’s

Paul Taylor, President, Board of Directors
C.F. Stone III, Chairman, Board of Directors
Bettie de Jong, Rehearsal Director
John Tomlinson, Executive Director
Jennifer Tipton / James F. Ingalls, Principal Lighting Designers
Santo Loquasto, Principal Set & Costume Designer
Lisa Labrado, Director of Public Relations

Michael Trusnovec, Robert Kleinendorst, James Samson,
Michelle Fleet, Parisa Khobdeh, Sean Mahoney,
Eran Bugge, Francisco Graciano, Laura Halzack,
Jamie Rae Walker, Michael Apuzzo, Michael Novak,
Heather McGinley, George Smallwood,
Christina Lynch Markham, Madelyn Ho
Kristin Draucker

In Performances at the David H. Koch Theater
At Lincoln Center

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 17, 2017

(See Other Taylor Company Reviews)

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. (Program Notes). 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, now under the umbrella of Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance, is a sought after troupe and tours extensively around the globe.

The Weight of Smoke (2016): Original Music by Justin Levine and Matt Stine, Excerpts from George Frederic Handel, Choreography by Doug Elkins in collaboration with the dancers, Assisted by Carolyn Cryer, Costume Design by Karen Young, Lighting Design by James F. Ingalls, Performed by the Company.

Doug Elkins’ The Weight of Smoke, last season’s premiere, once again brings this choreographer front and center, with the Taylor dancers onstage, rather than the creator’s own company. I still prefer Mr. Taylor’s own dance designs to this campy, light dance, but it retains amusing elements. Wearing street clothes, sixteen Taylor dancers seem to be in a downtown-type nightclub, coupled up, but then the couples shift, as the “smoke” wears on, with women kissing women, men kissing men, and men kissing women, and round about again, or simultaneously, or with dance, or without. Excerpts from Handel’s baroque music are spotlighted, then intermingle with a contemporary score by Justin Levine and Matt Stine. Michael Trusnovec is again featured in gender-bending motion, and Michael Novak again makes a strong impression, as the club dancer that downed extra drinks. Couples twist through each other’s arms, and it’s all generally frenzied. There’s a music mismatch, as though Mr. Elkins was thinking Taylor=Handel. Jazz would have made a more fitting score.

The Open Door (NY Premiere): Music by Edward Elgar (Enigma Variations), Choreography by Paul Taylor, Set and Costumes by William Ivey Long, Lighting by James F. Ingalls, Conductor: Ted Sperling, Performed by Michael Novak as The Host, and the Company as The Guests. On second viewing, Mr. Taylor’s new dance, The Open Door, was more meaningful and even more impressive. The Company seemed more relaxed in the roles than during the Gala premiere, and each dancer used extra-enhanced gestural meanings. The host’s (Michael Novak) invited characters were over the top, Francisco Graciano in military attire, George Smallwood in topcoat and cane, and so on. Each dancer takes a turn on William Ivey Long’s sumptuous, painted set, dancing solo, duo, or group improvisation to the fantastic Elgar score of Enigma Variations, conducted by Ted Sperling. Also, Mr. Ivey Long’s costumes (and set) would win awards, if the dance community had such an honor, as these were crème de la crème enhancements to the ballet. Santo Loquasto, the Company’s Principal Set & Costume Designer, of course, should have won awards for decades, for his work for the Taylor Company. Mr. Ivey Long’s set, tonight, was evocative of that of the 1911 ballet, La Spectre de la rose, designed by the iconic Léon Bakst.

Brandenburgs (1988): Music by Johann Sebastian Bach (Brandenburg Concertos No. 6 (movements 1 &2) and No. 3), Choreography by Paul Taylor, Costumes by Santo Loquasto, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, Conductor: Ted Sperling, Performed by the Company.

Tonight, I listened more closely to the music, played live by Orchestra of St. Luke’s, conducted by Ted Sperling. On this very stage, I have long enjoyed Brandenburg, a Robbins ballet, choreographed to segments of four of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti, danced by New York City Ballet. Taylor’s 1988 Brandenburgs is choreographed to two of the Bach Concerti. These are very different dance choreographies, Robbins and Taylor, and Santo Loquasto’s black, velvety costumes (men in cropped, sleeveless unitards, women in long, sleeveless dresses) make this work serious and stunning. Michael Trusnovec’s solo, as always, was mesmerizing and balletic in Jennifer Tipton’s spotlight, while the three women, in this nine-member ensemble, glowed in Graham-styled, pelvic-centered momentum. Arms slice the air like propellers. Parisa Khobdeh, James Samson, and Michael Novak were particularly riveting.

Kudos to Paul Taylor.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at