David Koch Theater, New York, NY; March 16, 2014

Tom Ferraro

One of the many pleasures of watching the Paul Taylor Dance Company perform is that you get a chance to observe his eclecticism and the growth of his vocabulary. The works seen on March 16th at 2 PM included Airs, Dust and Piazzolla Caldera. These three pieces demonstrated Taylor’s courageousness in the face of life’s nasty truths and also how his standard stiff-armed athletic choreographic vocabulary of the 70’s changed and became more nuanced.

‘Airs’ (first performed in 1978) Music by G F Handel, Costumes by Gene Moore and Lighting by Jennifer Tipton. The curtain rises to reveal three male and three female dancers on stage. The men are barechested and the females are all in light blue chiffon dresses and form fitting tops.  The set, by Jennifer Tipton, consists of a deep blue monochromatic background. Handel’s baroque Concerti Grossi begins and elicits a ballet of sweet courtly elegance. The dance is filled with men lovingly escorting women across the stage, like Taylor is paying homage to beauty and love. Airs is really more ballet than modern dance and as such, would benefit from dancers who are strictly trained in ballet. When you see this piece performed by ABT, it feels like a true masterpiece, filled with astounding lyricism and breathtaking beauty.  In this case, one becomes aware of the female dancer’s weight and tendency to struggle. However in this performance, there was a two-minute duet at the center of the piece that expressed incredible lightness and charm, equal to the Pas de Quatre for Small Swans in Swan Lake. In the end, Taylor’s choreography gets the point across – life can have and ought to have an incredible lightness of being.

‘Dust’ (first performed in 1977) Music by Frances Poulenc “Concerti Champetre”, Set and costumes by Gene Moore, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton. Dust is a dance of pain and struggle and death. The set had a long braided rope on stage right, knotted toward the top and suspended from the ceiling. It conjured Samuel Beckett’s play The Lost Ones. The message was that there may be a heaven above but it is not likely that you are getting there. The piece begins with clusters of dancers huddled together on the ground and some under blankets. The dancers wore beige leotards with blotches of color and stains. The movement vocabulary was that of pain, some dancers grabbing an ankle as they crawled across the stage, others clutching their right side or holding their heads.

At one point in the piece there is prolonged silence and we see seven blind dancers groping their way in the space. They hold onto each other and seek in vain for someone to save them. In this case, the dancers were saved by the introduction of lyrical harpsichord music, setting them free at least for a moment. The work ends with all the dancers configured on stage right with the leader looking up to the heavens and the rest lined up behind him in various stages of despair.

Piazzolla Caldera (first performed in 1997)  Music by Astor Piazzolla and Jerzy Peterburshsky, Set and costumes by Santo Loquasto, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton. The curtain rises on a red and blue tango setting with smoke-filled air and hanging lamps. The music is by the crown prince of nuevo tango, which combines classical music with jazz and tango beats. The male and female dancers are grouped at different sides of the stage and they look like they are all readying for battle. Piazzolla’s music has a somewhat sinister edge to it. The dance vocabulary used by Taylor is an easy blend of tango steps and modern dance – swiveling hips and tangled legs. Tango means touch and there is plenty of that. The piece is especially remarkable because it is one of the few times that Taylor openly deals with the issue of same sex relationships. Two males (Mr. Graciano and Mr. Apuzzo) go through the typical body hugging tango moves; eventually, they run out of gas and collapse onto the floor. As if dreaming, they conjure the next sequence – a prototype of their moves with amazingly sexy variations by Mr. Trusnovec and the incomparable Ms. Fleet. With this, the sleeping male couple rise again and proceed to copy what they just witnessed; as if they needed to learn about sex and love and did just that.

With that the evening comes to a close. Seeing such a broad range of dance – from classical all the way to tango – tells you why Paul Taylor has gained such acclaim. His content is sophisticated and erudite, his tone is often joyful and filled with easy humor. He is able to channel music into movement with ease. And he may be the best at juxtaposing conflicting visions as he did here in both Dust and Piazzolla Caldera. Paul Taylor is a cauldron of talent and he proved it once again tonight.