Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Taylor—Enduring Romance, Sacrifice, and Oddities

Michael Trusnovec and Laura Halzack in Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal). Photo: Paul B. Goode
Was it a stroke of clever programming or serendipity that paired Paul Taylor's premiere of To Make Crops Grow back-to-back with Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal) (1980) on March 8? Sacre is a wonderful example of Taylor's "archaic" style, and one of my favorites. The broad, cartoon tone and flattened shapes drape a deceptively simple veil over the serious technical and formal challenges, not to mention the melodramatic plot. The structure is a twist on the old "show within a show" ruse, involving a dance company in rehearsal, a baby-napping, a wrongly accused thief, and a crime syndicate's exploits. The three duos that form the chorus (clad in proletariat-grey leotards and head scarves), and the lead couple, are given an extended passage of utmost difficulty—the women leap onto their partners’ shoulders with a bent knee, or spring off the mens’ chests, or step onto a shoulder. The men whip the women in windmill lifts, done swiftly enough to blur their features. 

Michael Trusnovec (a detective) and Laura Halzack (the mother of the ‘napped baby) may or may not be a couple; chivalry and communion always bubble under the surface in Taylor’s work. John Rawlings' graphic sets and costumes underscore the comic book punch; two cops carry an abstracted jail cell in front of Trusnovec, who later simply snaps two of the bars off in a jailbreak. Emotions are expressed in shorthand gestures; Trusnovec rubs his thigh to express concern, Halzack presses her bageled fists to her ears in distress. A hilarious, precisely choreographed knife fight led by stooge Jamie Rae Walker results in a pile of bodies, including the sacrificial baby, which Trusnovec has already used to steady a cartwheel.

George Smallwood, Francisco Graziano, Rob Kleinendorst, and Sean Mahoney in To Make Crops Grow. Photo: Jamie Young
The answer to the putative title question of To Make Crops Grow is simple: offer up one trophy wife in the form of Parisa Khobdeh. This premiere is more theater than dance, in the manner of 2012’s House of Joy. In a twist of genres, it connects this branch of his work to some Judson concepts where anything can be dance, even moving a field of rocks into an offering pile. James Samson makes a convincing farmer dad, with Heather McGinley his wife and Walker and Francisco Graziano their kids, while a slick May/December couple (Khobdeh and Michael Apuzzo) and their daughter show up, among others. Enter Kleinendorst (Ritual Conductor) who dons a freaky feather headdress and makes everyone pick a slip of paper to designate a sacrifice for the crops in a cross between Sacre and The Hunger Games. It’s a strange work that shares Taylor DNA with dances like Big Bertha and Oh, You Kid!

It shared a program with Sacre and two other early dances that defy category: Junction (1961), which plays with tempo and plasticity, and Three Epitaphs (1956), in which a remarkable depth of expression, especially by the masked Samson, is achieved through various exaggerations of those classic steps, the slump and trudge.

Perpetual Dawn, the other season premiere, is a lush, romantic dance to music by Johann David Heinichen (1683—1729), a contemporary of JS Bach. Santo Loquasto’s earth-hued costumes evoke a country social and his set, a painted pastoral landscape, takes on remarkably different versions of dawn—blue, pink, golden—depending on James Ingalls’ sylvan, moody lighting. The vocabulary Taylor uses here is relatively balletic, lending an air of formality to the unrushed pace. A recurring motif: a dancer freezes with one bent leg extending and flicking from a slightly backtilted torso, arms angled at 90º, and steps into a bent-kneed attitude. It’s an exclamation point in a dance otherwise filled with lyrical ovals, loops, and seamless fluidity.

Amy Young and McGinley play an intriguing game of charades (anyone know what clues they were signing?), and Graziano and Eran Bugge gently spin one another on a bent leg. Trusnovec and Halzack dance a gentle, private duet that ends with them seated in pinwheels; he pulls her close in a hug. Michelle Fleet does a bit of her Esplanade pit-a-pat running, seeking perhaps Michael Novak, with whom she finally dances. The curtain closes as the silhouetted dancers lope in endless figure eights. Romance endures. It’s a lovely ending to a gracious, intoxicating dance.

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