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.

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