Friday, August 31, 2018

Paul Taylor, 1930—2018

James Samson, Michael Trusnovec, and Sean Mahoney in Brandenburgs. Photo: Paul B. Goode
We mourn the loss of Paul Taylor at 88. As a choreographer, he was a shapeshifter. How else to explain the fantastically varied body of work he produced over his nearly nine decades of life? His work ranged from conceptual and rebellious; slap-stick humorous; dark and psychologically probing; wartime based; stories; and formal with patterning, often to classical music, for which he is probably best known. 

Some favorites:

Beloved Renegade (2008)
Michael Trusnovec perfectly portrays the Poet facing death, tenderly interacting with his friends and being led mercilessly out of life by the Angel, Laura Halzack.

Promethean Fire (2002)
A masterpiece in patterning and coordination, but also a gut wrenching paean to human bonds through a 9/11 lens.

Brandenburgs (1988)
The odd-numbered groupings, with passages for women that are as powerful as the mens', plus a wonderful hero solo.

Sunset (1983)
Old world gentility, romance, poignant war motifs, a moving male duet, Alex Katz's simple and beautiful set. 

Lost, Found and Lost (1982)
Antipathy and apathy to elevator music, done in elegant rhinestone-studded catsuits and veils.

Le Sacre du Printemps: A Rehearsal (1980)
A funny, scary story dance done in Taylor's flat Egyptian style, plus socialist demagoguery.

Profiles (1979)
A quartet related to a section of Sacre, and one of the most challenging short dances requiring incredible strength and coordination.

Polaris (1976)
Amid Katz's simple cube of tubes, two casts perform the same sequence to skew time and space.

Cloven Kingdom (1976)
Societal norms butt up against primal instincts in both movement and music. The male quartet among the fiercest and rousing passages in Taylor's oeuvre.

Esplanade (1975)
Walking, running, and hurtling through space, plotless but elicits all range of human emotion.

Junction (1961)
Elemental sculptural, modern, abstract shapes made by the dancers' bodies, spiced up with Katz's color block costumes and set elements.

Three Epitaphs (1956)
Caveman style walking—slumped over, effortful—and windmilling forearms by dancers in mud-colored catsuits with mirrored accents, to a New Orleans brass line. Breaks so many norms.

His dancers were his clay to mold and create sculptures. They inspired him and their great abilities and courage fueled his demanding choreography. So the current company members are the last ones to work personally with Taylor, which in the near future will perhaps be compared to Balanchine's last stable of dancers. The company goes on under the artistic direction of recently appointed Michael Novak (recent interview here), but no doubt it is a new era in modern dance. We are richer for Taylor's output, but sadder for his loss.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Sarasota Ballets Gifts of Ashton and Gomes

Victoria Hulland & Marcelo Gomes in The Two Pigeons Act II. Photo by Frank Atura
Sarasota Ballet’s visit to the Joyce Theater last week brought things I have been wistful for of late—the repertory of Ashton, and the performing of Marcelo Gomes. The August 19 show led off with There Where She Loved, a suite by Christopher Wheeldon from 2000, to music by Kurt Weill and Chopin performed live. The seven sections featured small groups—four men and a woman, a trio, duets—emphasizing the difficult and sometimes knotty partnering that the choreographer endlessly explores. In the quintet, Ryoko Sadashima’s toe shoe-clad feet rarely alight as she is hoisted, flown, and manipulated in myriad ways by her four squires. (The main theme is danced by the men in shirts and pants, and later without shirts.) Some moments feel awkward: a couple lies head to head, holding hands, and rolls upstage; a woman scooches backwards offstage, seated. The singers (Stella Zambalis and Michelle Giglio), accompanied by pianist Cameron Grant, add luster.

Works by Frederick Ashton comprise the rest of the program. Monotones I & II are performed periodically by ABT, but on the larger Koch Theater stage. Each is done by a trio in yellow and white unitards with sparkles and toadstool headcaps. The three often move in unison, or in canon, or the two women partner one man, and vice versa. The pace is stately and even-paced for the most part; abrupt moves might include a jump into fourth position, or a sissonne into a low arabesque. The close proximity at the Joyce adds even more possibilities to scrutinize off timing or bobbles. But the company essentially fared well under pressure.
Ryoko Sadoshima, Samantha Benoit & Alex Harrison in Monotones I. Photo Frank Atura
Four wide-ranging Ashton miniatures closed the bill. La Chatte, a study of a cat woman, features cliched air-clawing and ear cleaning gestures, and a comedic loud meow at the end; it shows Ashton’s earthy sense of humor. Les Patineurs pas de trois demonstrates Ashton’s fluency with capturing the essence of expression, in the case of ice skating. Elongated chassees and strategic hops impressively create the effect of the real thing, and the simple joy skating evokes is conveyed by the dancers’ luminous faces. Méditation from Thaïs is a more traditional pas de deux with “exotic” costumes of orange and apricot, and numerous technically difficult lifts and partnering maneuvers.

It was only when Marcelo Gomes appeared at the start of The Two Pigeons that I was reminded of how great stage presence can be relayed even while simply walking (albeit with a live dove on his shoulder). Lost in thought, it’s clear he is consumed with emotion as he tenderly places the dove on a chair. Victoria Hulland enters, settling into a “dying swan” pose; he impulsively plunges his arms around her waist to pick her up. It’s during such elemental moments, and not necessarily bigger moves, when Gomes is most moving—like he has created a backstory and lives that character. As they dance together, absorbed in romance, another dove flies onstage and joins the first. The poetry of the parallel pairs carries great pathos and reminds us of the power of theatrical ballet, of which Ashton is exemplary. And also of the recent absence of Gomes, one of his generation's finest performers, but the glimmer of hope that he will periodically return.