Articles from Ballet2000

Paul Taylor Dance Company in NY

Dust – chor. Paul Taylor, mus. Francis Poulenc; Private Domain – chor. Paul Taylor, mus. Iannis Xenakis; Piazzola Caldera – chor. Paul Taylor, mus. Astor Piazzola, Jerzy Peterburshky
New York, Lincoln Center, David H. Koch Theater
Of all the great master choreographers of American modern dance, Paul Taylor was probably the most eclectic and syncretic; and – as a dancer – the most athletic. During the years in which he was dancing with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and the post-modern rebels, he experienced first-hand the liberty inherent in an independent idiom; from his work with Martha Graham he learnt the expressive force that comes from the tension between torso and legs. And then, when George Balanchine created a role for him in Episodes, he absorbed the richness of classical ballet.
Taylor used a bit of everything, from simple walking to highly complicated dancing. And his 147 ‘dances’ (as he himself used to call them with simplicity), created between 1954 and 2018 (shortly before his death at 88 years of age), nonchalantly feature a range of styles, from abstract to dramatic works.


Last winter his company’s regular New York season, which used to be held initially at City Center and afterwards (as from 2012) at the David H. Koch Theatre in the prestigious Lincoln Center, featured various programmes which highlighted Taylor’s versatility – at times serene, at others wild, yet always poetic.
The programme I saw was made up of three works which span thirty years of Taylor’s long career.
Created in 1977, Dust conveys latent anxiety and is one of Taylor’s bleakest works. Nine dancers, their bodies stiff and their feet flexed, cross the stage as if they were trying to escape from some looming menace. At times they tremble and shake with nervous spasms as if they were being subjected to electric shocks. Taylor used to describe this creation as “a subconscious stream of action that just bubbled up”; it denotes a pessimism rarely found in other works of his.
Private Domain from 1969 is, on the other hand, a more eclectic work and probably had a certain significance for Taylor seeing as it’s also the title of his autobiography, published in 1987. Yet Private Domain too is an unusual work coming from a sunny, fun-loving choreographer like Taylor. While not distressing in mood, it is nevertheless quite tense. The dancers are often at ground-level and their jerky and angular movements reveal the influence of Graham. The set by painter Alex Katz, consisting in big mobile panels behind which the dancers keep disappearing, contributes to Private Domain’s strange atmosphere.
Piazzola Caldera shows us Taylor’s special talent for capturing the essence of things without in actually performing them. Indeed, the dancers don’t actually tango to Astor Piazzola’s sophisticated music but, rather, suggest its perfume. Taylor is not so much interested in tango steps as he is in its beginnings and he seeks to evoke the atmosphere of where this dance originally saw the light: the lowlife bars of Buenos Aires which exude working class camaraderie, but also loneliness and the sexual tension alluded to from the minute a group of men enter the stage and stare at a group of women.
The Paul Taylor Dance Company was dynamic and athletic in this somewhat unusual bill sourced from the choreographer’s wide-ranging oeuvre. As well as “determined to further Paul Taylor’s vision (…) to honor past dance makers and encourage future artists”, as the company’s current Artistic Director Michael Novak has remarked.

Sonia Schoonejans

BALLET2000 n° 284, February 2020