Friday, March 16, 2012

Paul Taylor Dance Company Gets a New House

Michael Trusnovec and Amy Young in Mercuric Tidings. Photo: Paul B. Goode
In case you hadn’t heard, Paul Taylor Dance Company is performing its annual three-week season (through April 1) at Lincoln Center’s Koch Theater for the first time, after decades at City Center. A few observations...

The stage is farther away, and the dancers thus feel somewhat distant. As an audience member, City Center has always felt somewhat claustrophobic, but the proximity of the stage forces a closer relationship with the performers. The Koch Theater is most familiar as the home of New York City Ballet, and its primarily Balanchine repertory and the general cool image of the ballet dancer fit the house’s ratios, providing a deep cushion of space between viewer and dancer. To calibrate the best viewing distance of Taylor at the Koch, it’s pretty obvious: sit closer.

The company fills the stage. I’d wondered if the 16-member company, featured all at once in just a handful of the repertoire, would not look a bit lost, but they don’t. These dancers are capable of nearly superhuman things, and can certainly take bigger steps, or leap a little higher and farther. They’re already used to projecting to the back of the wickedly cavernous City Center upper levels.

The theater underscores the diversity of Taylor’s repertory. Many of the abstract, pattern-heavy works are accompanied by classical music. Combined with the clean, crisp, very dancey “classical Taylor” technique, the vocabulary that he has canonized over nearly 60 years, the effect isn’t all that distant from ballet. On the flip side, the comical works feel slightly out of place in this temple of classicism. Not a bad thing, as one of the essential things about Taylor’s importance is the astounding variety of his creativity.

The theater’s regular tenant, NYCB, also points up that PTDC is using recorded music. This issue flares up with regularity, but it’s all the more exaggerated by the spoils of City Ballet’s emphasis on music. To say that PTDC should have live music is to overstate the obvious, but it’s simply not realistic. And raising this issue emphasizes the fact that the company is performing 22 dances over three weeks, so live music would put crazy demands on an orchestra (and its resulting expenses), even if they did minimal rehearsing and basically sight-read the music. (Another fact that highlights the brain power of these dancers.) Think about it in terms of any other modern company, that might typically have 2 or 3 works in a week-long run, if they’re lucky. The scale of PTDC’s ambitions, year after year, is only comparable with a large ballet company. And the quality of the performances seem only to be deepened, and not hobbled, by the enormity of the season.

In addition to three premieres, some favorites in this year’s rotation: the profoundly moving Beloved Renegade; Mercuric Tidings, absolutely breakneck in speed; the wickedly satirical Cloven Kingdom; the very strange Big Bertha and 3 Epitaphs, and the return of classics such as Aureole (celebrating its 50th anniversary, and featuring the nonpareil Michael Trusnovec in Taylor’s original role); Promethean Fire, rested after a year off; Brandenburgs; and of course Esplanade, perhaps the essential Taylor dance.
Susan Yung

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