Friday, March 14, 2014

Paul Taylor Company—0 to 60 and Back Again

Cloven Kingdom, the perfect gala dance. Photo: Paul B. Goode
Paul Taylor opened its 60th season last Tuesday at the Koch Theater, but there's little time to celebrate this momentous milestone. Yesterday at a press conference, the company announced plans to restructure, and by this time next year we should be seeing Paul Taylor's American Modern Dance performing its first season. 

This reincarnation of the current Taylor company anticipates the choreographer's eventual (but not currently planned) retirement. Work by other modern choreographers will be performed alongside Taylor's impressive oeuvre; the alien works—commissions and existing rep—are sure to be acquired slowly, so the programming probably won't be radically different at first. The release says: "To best showcase masterworks, they will be danced by legacy companies or artists trained in the signature techniques of the choreographers show pieces are being presented." Taylor was reluctant to name companies (and to speak, in general; if he were not a man, he'd be a clam), although Martha Graham popped up, and Merce Cunningham in the context that it might not be possible to perform his work.

Another interesting tenet says that live music will be used "where intended by the choreographer," and/or when possible. This addresses the one consistent criticism of Taylor's six decades of seasons, including by the union—the use of recorded music, which is an understandable compromise, faced with survival. What this means in practical terms is, again, yet to be determined. But in an impoverished dance climate, it is heartening to think of opening up this one-artist institution as a repository for modern dance, while maintaining Taylor's oeuvre.

To help finance this transition, four Rauschenberg artworks in Taylor's personal collection will be auctioned off in May, to raise an estimated $10 million. A representative from Sotheby's was on hand to speak about the specifics. One piece is a mixed media "combine" from 1954; another, Tracer, from 1962, includes a bicycle wheel and was made for the Paris Opera Ballet. Two additional 2D works round out the sale. You can't help but think about the trend of cultural organizations considering the sale of artworks to prolong the life of the institution. But in this case, apparently the Rauschenbergs have been in storage, and might never be seen otherwise. And it stems from personal relationship wrought in the nascent modernist movement of mid-20th century New York—reaping what was sown.

Sunset. Photo: Paul B. Goode
As for the current season, the company looks sharp, with some relatively new faces. Cloven Kingdom (1976) remains one of the gems in the rep; it opened the run, and was included on the gala program last night in a shrewdly sardonic bit of scheduling. As the tux and gown clad gala-goers took their seats, the curtain raised to reveal a parallel universe of fancily dressed women with shiny accessories (albeit mirrored objects on their heads) and men in elegant white tie tuxes behaving alternately like pouncing beasts and society swells, moving to a potent mix of classical music and tribal rhythms. The fact that it was being performed in the David Koch Theater, with its namesake in attendance, only contributed to its pungency.

Sunset (1983) followed, a gentle, if bittersweet paean to a bygone time of chivalry and military service. Each element fits perfectly within the whole—Alex Katz's mint-fresh set, Elgar's lilting string music augmented by the sound of loons, and Taylor's reductive, lyrical mode of movement in which even difficult feats are made to look effortless. Its undercurrents of war casualties and muffled male romance emerge, but never weigh down the mood. Guest artists Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild danced a duet from Airs (1978). As you might expect, they added some speed and height to the more technical elements like jumps and hitting shapes, and rendered it with a far lighter—airier—touch than the grounded Taylor dancers. 

Piazzolla Caldera (1997) is an oddity in the repertory, with its stylized interpretation of the tango tied to Kronos Quartet's interpretations of Piazzolla's tunes. It dawned on me that in two programs, I hadn't yet seen one of Taylor's "pattern" pieces, often set to classical music, but that Piazzolla Caldera actually contains a fair amount of group traffic exercises and patterns that bind together a series of solos and duets. Michael Trusnovec slices and slips his way through his opening solo and duet with Michelle Fleet, making the tango feel truly dangerous, and in a section with Rob Kleinendorst, the contrast between a warm Eran Bugge and the cool Laura Halzack clicked nicely.

On Tuesday, the company performed Dust (1977). Made a year after Cloven Kingdom, but lacking its sociological and kinetic incisiveness, it features the visual punch of Gene Moore's set—a thick, twisting column, like Jack's beanstalk—and costumes, flesh-hued unitards with blobs of color. Black Tuesday felt like a retort to Cloven Kingdom, with its Depression setting and roster of characters either succumbing to poverty and loneliness, or finding the brighter side. The absence of Parisa Khobdeh (out with an injury) and her current role as the company comedienne and daredevil was felt strongly here. Christina Lynch Markham handled the "Big Bad Wolf" solo ably, while Heather McGinley continues to make her mark as a memorable presence (flame-colored hair doesn't hurt). The season continues through March 30.

No comments: