Paul Taylor Dance Company
David H. Koch Theater
New York, New York
November 1, 2023: Dreamachine (world premiere), Eventide, Esplanade
November 9, 2023: Echo (world premiere), Vespers, Piazzolla Caldera
November 11, 2023, afternoon: Mercuric Tidings, Last Look, Esplanade
November 11, 2022, evening: Black Tuesday, Drum Circle (world premiere), Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal)
Not everything that Lauren Lovette touches turns to gold, but with the return of Paul Taylor Dance Company to Lincoln Center’s Koch Theater for what’s becoming its annual Fall season, including two world premiere dances by Lovette, it sure seems that way.
Overall, the season was a success — maybe the most successful since Taylor passed in 2018. And the success was on several levels: attendance was the most in some time; the programs — at least three of the four I saw — were well-planned; and there were three world premieres – one by Larry Keigwin and two by Lovette, the company’s Resident Choreographer, including one that will be remembered for a very long time. And that may prove to be an understatement.
I’ll first consider the two Lovette premieres, with Ulysses Dove’s Vespers, which was new to me, in between them for reasons that will be apparent. Then the Keigwin, then the Taylor dances that I’d not previously seen (or had not seen in a considerable period of time), followed by brief comments on the Taylor dances I’ve recently seen and reviewed.
The season’s highlight was the world premiere of one of Lovette’s new dances: Echo.
By now I’m sure word has gotten around. I was supposed to attend its world premiere on November 2, but was waylaid by a flat tire. [Don’t ask.] So I caught up with it a week later.
Singing Lovette’s choreographic praise is beginning to sound as tired as my observations as she rapidly rose through the ranks to be a Principal with New York City Ballet. So I won’t say, once again, that Echo is her best choreographic creation to date. But it is.
I don’t know where she pulls this stuff from, but she seems to have a limitless reservoir of imagination, along with the ability to translate that imagination into a work of dance art — and in this case, a landmark work of dance art. And its continuing evidence of the talent she displayed with her For Clara and Not Our Fate, the first two pieces she choreographed for NYCB, and the bridge she crossed with her last NYCB piece, The Shaded Line.
In including The Shaded Line as one of my “Tops in 2019 New York Dance,” I recognized the facility she so clearly displayed, even though I had concerns about the way the subject of that ballet was handled. I wrote then that the piece marked a significant step forward in Lovette’s choreographic career: “the ballet also demonstrates an unusual facility with theme development and moving large groups of dancers in a manner that’s makes sense in both respects. It’s a huge leap for her, and presages more accomplished, and maybe less didactic, choreography to come.”
Lovette continued to demonstrate that facility in subsequent choreography, but in Echo (and, to somewhat of a lesser extent, her other premiere: Dreamachine), the promise that I saw based on her work in The Shaded Line has now been fulfilled.
Echo is like nothing Lovette has choreographed before (with the possible exception of one of the segments of Dreamachine). Maybe that’s why it looks as groundbreaking as it does. But it’s also a product of her uncanny sense of surrounding herself with collaborative talent in the form, much of the time, of people that “regular” dancegoers may never have heard of — like Kevin Puts, who wrote the score for Echo with input from Lovette. Simply put, it’s the finest original contemporary dance score I’ve heard in years. More than that, it may be the most original I’ve heard (discounting repetitive music from Philip Glass and others, which has, at times, its own idiosyncratic beauty) since Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” – and I don’t consider that in any way an exaggeration.
Although he may have been unknown to many in the ballet-world, including me (it’s a continuing source of amazement that there’s so much I don’t know that I don’t know), Puts, who was born in 1972, is not an unknown in the music world. Among many other accomplishments over his already lengthy career is a 2001 Guggenheim Fellowship, a Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for his first opera score, Silent Night, and a 2023 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition , Contact; and he’s been commissioned and performed by leading organizations around the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Carnegie Hall, and has collaborated with world-class artists such as Renée Fleming, and Yo-Yo Ma, among others. To that list he can now add Lauren Lovette.
And Puts’s score was delivered largely by a guest group: Time for Three (Charlie Yang, violin; Nicholas Kendall, violin; Ranaan Meyer, bass), who provided not only the energy of the score, but their own as well. Here again, I never knew of this group – but Puts did. His website indicates he “discovered” them (actually, they found him) in 2017, then collaborated with them on Contact (delayed because of the pandemic). What an extraordinary collaboration: Puts, Time for Three, and Lovette!
And there was one more significant collaborator (among several others). The costumes, which I’ll describe below, were designed by Zac Posen – the same designer who designed the costumes for The Shaded Line – which I intensely disliked. Here, however, the costumes are a superb complement to the music and choreography. Between this and the piece by former NYCB soloist Harrison Ball (Purcell Suite) that premiered last year with New Jersey Ballet that Posen also costumed, all is forgiven. The superb lighting (designed by James F. Ingalls) is another sterling component.
And then there is Lovette’s choreography.
Sometimes I’m at a loss for words (believe it or not). This is one of those times. Describing what Lovette created here is beyond my ability. It all moved too quickly, and was too complex from moment to moment, to capture it all, much less to dissect it. So I’ll have to resort, largely, to oversimplification.
Echo is a dance for eight male dancers, PTDC’s full complement, but there’s so much action that it seems as if far more than eight are involved. That it’s a male dance might raise some eyebrows – and, indeed, there’s as much testosterone on display as in a stereotypical Fall for Dance program. But the masculinity here is channeled differently, and although there’s a thorough exhibition of male power that seemingly never stops moving at less than full throttle (with black gown-like costumes that appear to be shredded vertically, giving the sense of even greater movement flow), this only tells part of it. Echo is way more than that. Like any great dance, it’s how it’s put together. And that’s where describing it gets dicey.
The first stumbling block (at least to me) is its title. In the evening’s Playbill, in an article written by Susan Yung, Lovette is quoted as saying that the title reflects her reading of “how the wind coming through sand dunes can sometimes be as loud as a rock concert….It’s like a call forth from the music to you, and you respond. That’s conversation.” Anyone who’s visited the American Southwest, or seen the film Lawrence of Arabia, knows what she meant. But one doesn’t give a dance a name, however it’s arrived at, without it having some connection to the dance. Here this results in an overthinker’s feast.
Echo looks and sounds something like a primitive or medieval religious gathering. The titles given to its four segments (The Call, Codes, Contact, and Convivium) reinforce that, even though they don’t relate to any particular religious practice that I’m aware of. But the dance isn’t some church service – this is primitive energy unleashed at what appears to be an extraordinary ceremonial event.
So I thought maybe what Lovette intended to communicate was a male version of a coven or monastic sect or native aboriginal tribe hidden in the mountains somewhere where the wind can create massive, eerie, echo-like sound. I dismissed the coven idea immediately – there’s nothing evil in Echo. But the other possibilities remained. So I dived further – the segment titles have common meanings (“Contact” may relate back to Puts’s earlier piece; and “Codes” implies some secret society), as does “Convivium” (a banquet, feast or gathering), but convivium also has a secondary biological/ ecological meaning: a geographically isolated population of a species that shows differentiation from other populations of the same species, becoming a subspecies or ecotype.
Combining the two meanings creates an interesting thematic possibility – a gathering of isolated populations that “echo,” the characteristics of another population.
But that doesn’t quite do it either. So what I lit on to soothe my overtaxed brain was that the population on stage “echoes,” in terms of ceremonial practice, a similar and more familiar practice of a completely different group (e.g., Native American, which might account for the “tribal” aspect of much of the music and choreography; or some medieval/ ancient ceremony (e.g., the all-female Dance of the Druids, from the STARZ TV series, “Outlander”), but seen differently.
Of course, “intent” can be evanescent, can change, and may not have been a part of Lovette’s mindset. But in order to hear an echo, there must be a communication of some sort that results in the echo – even if it’s man to man, within one’s own brain, or not really quantifiable. Or echoes of an instruction; a way of doing things, that’s not exactly what the instruction was. One way or another, I doubt that Lovette had nothing more in mind that the sound of wind in a desert (remember stories of whispering something to someone else, who passes it to someone else, and the whispered information at the end of the group is far different from what was the original?) – though maybe, if you consider one’s brain as a tabula rasa on which life codes are inscribed….
In a simplistic overview, parts of Echo do indeed look like an initiation of sorts into some sort of secret society – as if one, a novice (played by Lee Duveneck).is being groomed, or trained, by another (Kenny Corrigan) until he gets whatever it is right. [In parts of Codes, and all of Contact.] But that’s not consistent throughout, and trying to pigeonhole Echo into some specific plotline beyond, maybe, representing an otherworldly “echo” of religious or pseudo-religious events existing in the “real” world doesn’t work consistently either.
Normally I’d have a problem with dances that appear to include a narrative line, but then abandon or don’t develop it. But that’s not what’s important here. This is one of those rare dances where there may be a message that I can’t figure out, where it matters not at all. It has a kinship with something religio/ ceremonial, maybe, but in the end that doesn’t matter either. From its opening moments, Echo is bigger than that. And it’s not always danced at a supersonic pace; there are many examples of moderation in the score and the choreography. And, overall, it’s more a representation of power than speed per se.
The dance begins before it begins, with Time for Three stationed on a pedestal in the orchestra pit at a location closest to center of the stage proscenium. Gradually, the entire orchestra pit rises from beneath the stage plane to the point where it’s even with it (as often is the case in NYCB’s “See the Music” pre-performance programs), with Time for Three protruding above the rest. Then a procession of dancers somberly moves down the orchestra aisles, singly, until they are joined by others already on stage who help them up the stairs that bookend edges of the proscenium. At the beginning the music sounds hymn-like, but the choreography grows more frenetic, and powerful, over time, as does the choreography, focusing on spins, swirls, or “courtly” partnering – as well as occasionally flying through space. Indeed, once the procession ends and the curtain rises, a lone dancer, Shawn Lesniak, is seen spinning.
The dancers most central to the piece were Lesniak and Devon Louis, although Duveneck and Corrigan, as well as Austin Kelly, are frequent focal points (and comprise the dance’s second segment, in which, generally, a relatively fixed and fervent recitation in movement (Codes?) is emphasized. And after the mentor/student relationship in Contact, the frenzied movement is amplified in Convivium. This may sound like a hodgepodge by the way I’ve described it, but it’s not. It’s simply a breathtaking and invigorating set of individual or group expression, with frequent energy explosions in one form or another, that leads to the dance’s final vision of the men running from the downstage perimeter to the upstage dark emptiness – into some future, or back to where they started. Alex Clayton, John Harnage, and Jake Vincent completed the outrageously superb group of dancers.
I suspect I, and NYC audiences, will have another opportunity to see Echo next year, if not sooner.
On this same November 9 program, immediately following Echo, was Ulysses Dove’s Vespers.
I can understand why Vespers was selected for the same program as Echo, and to immediately follow it. In a superficial way, they complement each other. Both have (or, more accurately in the case of Echo, may have) a religious connection, and where Echo is all male, Vespers is all female. But the connection ends there. Vespers is far too obvious and predictable, and is choreographed to a score that’s far less complex.
The piece is venued in some church service somewhere. The women are scattered at different locations within this “church” area, but they can be seen as isolated occupants of a pew of worshippers. One by one (generally) each woman suddenly rises or leaps from her chair as if possessed by something, or to be fervently confessing some unknown sin, or perhaps both concurrently, and dances a jagged-edged solo. The six women (Maria Ambrose, Lisa Borres, Eran Bugge, Madelyn Ho, Jessica Ferretti, and Jada Pearman are superb, and maybe in another context the 1986 dance might be more impressive, but after Echo, it just doesn’t hold its own.
Don’t misinterpret my comments. I think Vespers is a fine dance – the best of the admittedly few Dove dances I’ve seen. It just looks less significant than it may be following the excitement that is Echo.
Lovette’s other piece, Dreamachine, is not in the same league as Echo, but that’s not to say that it’s not a fine piece of work, and another notch on Lovette’s choreographic belt. Indeed, but for Echo’s sense of inherent and mysterious power, it’s interesting in a different way.
Here the dance’s title, combined with the titles of its component parts (again, four), make it clear – or at least reasonably clear – what Lovette’s trying to do. But that also creates a sort of disconnect that to some extent derails it.
Dreamachine is exactly that: a dance celebration of dreams; of invention; of wild imagination; some might say of imagination run amok. The dance’s component parts are titled “Da Vinci’s Wings,” “Rube Goldberg’s Variations,” “Electric Eel,” and “Vulcan’s Forge,” and as you might be able to glean from these titles, the dance seems to go in one direction, and then shifts course – perhaps to accommodate the percussive score by American composer, pianist, and teacher Michael Daugherty.
Daugherty, who recently penned the score for Summer and Smoke, a piece choreographed by Cathy Marston that premiered with Houston Ballet last March, has been deemed by the League of American Orchestras to be one of the ten most-performed American composers of concert music today, and his music has received six Grammy Awards, including Best Contemporary Classical Composition in 2010 for Deus ex Machina for piano and orchestra and in 2016 for Tales of Hemingway for cello and orchestra.
Daugherty’s score here was created in 2018 (though it appears that it may have been created in 2014 but was released in an album in 2018), and bears the same title and movement headings as Lovette’s piece. According to Daugherty’s website, his composition “is a colorful tribute to the imagination of inventors who dreamed of new machines, both real and surreal.” According to a review from David’s Review Corner in March, 2018, each of the movements for Dreamachine (the composition) focuses on different groups of instruments in each movement, with British percussionist Evelyn Glennie contributing a long virtuoso snare-drum cadenza in the finale.
Lovette’s choreography, while consistent with each of the composition’s movements, doesn’t seem to work as well as an entirety.
The first two sections are wonderful, and are consistent with the overall theme, but treated differently than one might expect. This is Lovette, after all. In “Da Vinci’s Wings,” Kristin Draucker is the Da Vinci surrogate. Here she “plays” with five dancers (Bugge, Ambrose, Jake Vincent, Kelly and Corrigan) who look like rejects from Star Wars (costumed and sets by Santo Loquasto). But it soon becomes clear that these beings are creatures of Draucker’s (Da Vinci’s) imagination, raw materials that she manipulates in different forms based on some idea that enters her head, some of which she memorializes as “drawings” on stage (Da Vinci’s drawings). There’s no resolution here – no “Wings” (at least none that the audience can see). But it’s a brilliantly conceived and thoroughly engaging exploration of the process of invention, with consistently surprising effects — like the shadows of the imagination figures enlarged against the upstage scrim.
The second segment is stranger-looking because, well, Rube Goldberg’s inventions were strange-looking visualizations of invention itself, with no particular result intended beyond creating something purposeless just for the fun of doing it and for the creativity it represents. The segment, danced by Clayton, Ho, Duveneck, Louis and Borres, illustrates exactly what it’s supposed to illustrate: the invention of something (actually, I think, several different somethings) that has no purpose. It’s as engaging a segment as the first.
But then things go a bit awry. The “Electric Eel” segment, a duet between Ferretti and Corrigan, looks ok. But what kind of an invention is an electric eel? In that same above-quoted review, the invention is considered to be the “invention” of electricity itself. Ok. That works, but where does the “eel” come from? I suppose that it could simply be a metaphor for something temporary; difficult to hold on to. And the duet that Lovette crafted here does indeed reflect that sort of relationship. It’s beautifully done – up to a point. And then it seems to lose direction, or electric power, and slips away – ending like a typical branch from the relationship dance tree in which the couple go their separate ways for no particular reason (beyond, I suppose, some sort of power failure). So as much as I enjoyed “Electric Eel” through most of it, it left me scratching my head.
But the concluding segment, “Vulcan’s Forge,” is more problematic – not because it’s poorly choreographed. It was very well-choreographed, and it has a similar energy flow as what Lovette creates in Echo. By itself, it’s a super concluding segment, led by Louis but including the entire cast, that pulses and pounds to Glendennies’ percussion even though it doesn’t take the viewer to any particular place beyond some underworld location that shapes “invitees” as it wishes. [Maybe that’s the ”invention.”] But as well-choreographed and performed as it is, it didn’t seem to belong here. That’s not Lovette’s “fault” – she didn’t put it there; Daugherty did. Nevertheless, it is what it is, and to me it had no relationship whatsoever to any invention or “dreamachine,” except maybe a nightmare of a hyper-functional anvil and oven, with a demonic Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Louis) directing the action.
Finally, I must acknowledge the lighting, designed by long-time lighting wizard Jennifer Tipton. The array and movement of the fluorescent-like tubes helps make Dreamachine look even more like a dream.
I’ll take Dreamachine over most other dances I often see, but Echo is now Lovette’s greatest triumph; Dreamachine is also a triumph, but a lesser one.
The other world premiere, Keigwin’s Drum Circle, is a different matter. It’s not a bad dance; in fact, for what it is it’s well done. It’s just silly.
Like Echo, Drum Circle has its own set of guests: CHAIN, a percussion group consisting of William Catanzaro (who composed the score), Victor See Yuen, and Michael Mustafa Ulmer. CHAIN is stationed onstage, mid-stage right, on an elevated platform.
Everything is percussion, although some instruments are used that look far from ordinary percussion, and that deliver far from ordinary sound (one, which from my vantage point looked like an oversized wind-sock, produced animal-like sounds in between tempo changes). My complaint isn’t with the music, which, for what it is, is quite outstanding. Nor is it with the energetic group of eleven Taylor dancers. It’s what Keigwin does with it.
It’s all very simplistic-looking. Even the title. CHAIN is arrayed on a routine, basically rectangular, stage platform, but with the instruments in place it looks something like a circle. Since that may not have been clear enough, the dancers repeatedly, and too frequently, surround the elevated band and form circles. Drums and circles. Ergo, Drum Circle.
The choreography that takes place once the circle yields to other things is just a continuation of the circle movement, only not in a circle. There’s more than that, including occasionally interesting-looking partnering and lifts, but it’s all of a piece – it all looks essentially the same.
Part of that sense of sameness is the aura that Drum Circle quite consciously proclaims, and promotes throughout. This is a “sports” themed dance, with the cast wearing vertically-striped sports uniforms (at least one with a number on its back), more like basketball than anything else, and the women in modified cheerleader outfits – no cheerleader skirts, but many in shorts cut to the same length. Mostly they just prance around, having fun.
The piece is fun to watch because the dancers are so good at what they do. And for audiences that prefer persistent percussion and endless vigor, it’s wonderful – evident from the enthusiastic applause the piece received at its conclusion. But to me it’s a waste of the dancers’ energy, and of the band’s talent. But that doesn’t mean that there’s no place for it. There’s a place for simple fun in a dance. But to me, Drum Circle belongs more as a half-time show (maybe for the Final Four or an NBA championship than the Super Bowl – though with a little costume manipulation it’d work there too), with CHAIN being a particularly high caliber marching band).
The first of the Taylor dances that I’d not previously seen, Mercuric Tidings, was on the program for the actual premiere of Echo that I was supposed to have seen. Too bad I missed it – it must have been a fantastic program. Unlike Vespers, Mercuric Tidings has a significant energy flow that would be a natural opening act for Echo. I caught up with it on the November 11 matinee program. It’s a wonderful example of “old” Taylor – the enthusiasm and style of Aureole, with some of Esplanade in it as well.
There’s no story here; it’s “just” movement to music by Franz Schubert (excerpts from Symphony Nos. 1 and 2), put together in a highly appealing dance that blasts light and energy like an electric bulb. One can’t not like it or fail to appreciate the variety of movement Taylor infuses into the piece while maintaining his characteristic style (e.g., those rounded upward-held arms). But that’s not to say that Mercuric Tidings is a copy of other similar dances. I can’t recall seeing anyone fly through the air the way Ferretti did while soaring through a series of powerful leaps.
Eventide is another Taylor dance I’d not previously seen. It followed the premiere of Dreamachine on the November 1 program.
First performed in 1997, Eventide is a dance for five couples to music by Ralph Vaughan-Williams (Suite for Viola and Orchestra and Hymn-Tune Prelude No. 1). It’s a very lovely dance, meticulously crafted as Taylor pieces are. However, and perhaps I’ll change my position on subsequent views, Eventide seems too sweet, and too formal. There’s a little of Taylor’s Roses here – the same romanticism and sense of ideal relationships. But in Eventide there’s too much of it. The dance does break into duets, most of which are quite choreographically fetching, including some that are legitimately moving, but there’s also too much of a focus on intricate patterning; of moving bodies so that they end up in an unexpected form (sort of like Balanchine). Eventide is a gem of craftsmanship, but it wears that craftsmanship on its sleeve.
The piece is divided into seven segments. The first, “Prelude,” involves four of the five couples, the dance then segues to the fifth couple, Bugge and Duveneck, for the first duet, titled “Carol.” Followed by “Christmas Dance” (Pearman and Kelly). Just when you think there may be a Christmas theme to it, “Christmas Dance” is followed by “Ballad” (Ambrose and Corrigan), then “Moto Perpetuo” (Borres and Clayton, and Musette (Bugge and Dumeneck), before concluding with the entire cast (in addition to the above, Draucker and Vincent).
Eventide means the time of evening, including dusk, eve or nightfall. One way or the other, it’s literally a time of peace before the tide rushes back in. That’s clearly the sense of Taylor’s dance. It’s quiet and peaceful, but except for some brief moments in some of the duets, it’s too quiet and peaceful – and the energy flow in Lovette’s Dreamachine (particularly its final segment), which preceded it on the program, made Eventide appear even slower than it otherwise would have. [There’s also a sense of remembered past events here – similar, in wistfulness, to Antony Tudor’s The Leaves Are Fading, but more generalized.] As brilliantly and beautifully crafted and executed as it is, it looks ponderous and syrupy by comparison.
But, maybe in a different dance context, I’d find it a source of calm reverence.
I’d seen Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal) previously (in or about 1980, when it premiered), but I expected something different, and didn’t “get” it at all. So I’ll treat it this time as a piece I’d not previously seen.
The result is the same. I understand it more, but I still don’t get it.
Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal) (hereafter at times, “Sacre”) is one of Taylor’s zany pieces. But in addition to being entertainingly comical, it’s scratch-your-head weird. And “Rehearsal” or otherwise, it has little in common with the Stravinsky/ Nijinsky creation. For one, the score is a shadow of its real self. That’s not a criticism of the pianists (Margaret Kampmeier and Blair McMillen) who executed the arranged-for-piano score; rather, it’s a comment on the arrangement. Reducing it to two pianos bleeds the life out of it, no matter how well-played it is.
That being said, Stravinsky probably mapped it out on a piano before it was orchestrated. So…there you go: a rehearsal of sorts.
For another, there’s no “chosen one.” Instead, there’s an infant, who may be considered “chosen,” but not to make the crops grow or leave the tribe in peace for another year. It’s selected because, well, I have no idea.
The story as Taylor tells it is of a dance company in rehearsal for something – presumably titled Le Sacre du Printemps. The story being presented, rehearsal or not, is of a Girl who gives birth to a baby that other characters want. One of these is the Mistress of a Crook, except this Mistress at times appears to be some vengeful god (goddess) who needs to be appeased. In the end, just when the Girl gets her infant back thanks to the efforts of the Private Eye, it’s somewhat accidentally killed by the Crook’s Stooge, and is taken possession of by …the Mistress. Or maybe it was the company’s Rehearsal Mistress. Got it? I didn’t.
Parts of Sacre are hilarious. For example, the Private Eye (I think), Clayton, is captured for some reason and put behind bars. There he’s visited by Pearman, who plays the mother of the kidnapped child. When that’s done, invigorated, the Private Eye escapes from prison by pulling the bars apart with his hands. Funny. And anything the Crook’s Stooge (Ho) does is Funny. When the infant gets stabbed to death accidentally, it’s Funny. About the only character who plays it straight is the Girl (Pearman), who desperately wants to keep her infant safe, finds it kidnapped, hires help to find him, gets him back, but watches him die anyway. Tres tragique. But is this a Rite of Spring?
And all this activity (well, most of it) is executed in a style that mimics Nijinsky’s style in the original Sacre: angled and tilted bodies and an occasional “walk like an Egyptian.”
Sacre can be accepted on its own terms and on its own level, but I don’t know what the terms and level are. I suppose it also can be taken as completely independent from the original Sacre – but it isn’t that either. It just is what Taylor created it to be: a funny dance where the plot isn’t necessarily supposed to make any sense, all of which is vaguely related to the original Sacre – something like a third cousin several times removed. Maybe that’s why it’s described as “The Rehearsal.” I don’t know. Maybe in another 40 years I’ll figure it out, or just stop trying.
The remaining Taylor dances that I previously saw and commented on were. Piazzolla Caldera, Last Look, Black Tuesday, and Esplanade, each of which, with the possible exception of Black Tuesday, is a Taylor masterpiece.
The reason I single out Black Tuesday is that it’s choreographed to a series of songs that emanated from the Great Depression. That’s similar to what Taylor did with his Company B, but there the songs were far more familiar. In Black Tuesday, only two of the final three songs are reasonably well-known. So while the choreography is top-notch for everything, it doesn’t carry the same weight as it did with Company B.
That being said, there’s far more drama in Black Tuesday, and there are significant performances, including by Ambrose (again, most impressive in “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams”) and Clayton (in “Brother Can You Spare a Dime”). Other highlights were Christina Lynch Markham and Duveneck in “There’s No Depression in Love,” Borres and Kelly in “Slummin’ on Park Avenue,” and Bugge in “I Went Hunting and the Wicked Wolf is Dead.”
Piazzolla Caldera is a brilliant piece of work based as much on the characters and themes it develops as on Piazzolla’s “modern” tango. This is reflected in the quotation from Pablo Neruda that follows the dance’s title: that is, it develops and displays the flawed confusion of human beings…”. It’s a zinger to the heart. The entire cast (Bugge, Markham, Draucker, Duveneck, Kelly, Louis, Harnage, Ambrose, Lesniak, Vincent, Ferretti, and Clayton) danced superbly, with a special nod to Ferretti.
Last Look, one of Taylor’s “black dances,” is a masterpiece as well. It’s not pretty to look at, but it’s not intended to be: it’s a vision of a human hell (from what isn’t clear, but that doesn’t matter at all), and its choreography, music (composed by Donald York) staging (sets and costumes by Alex Katz) – York and Katz are the same team that illuminated Taylor’s Diggity, which is as opposite to Last Look as one can get – and execution. Again there’s no weak link anywhere, and each of the cast of eight excelled, including particularly Corrigan and, as was the case the last time I saw the piece, Ambrose.
And then there’s Esplanade. A season without Esplanade is the equivalent of NYCB having a season without Serenade. ‘Nuff said.
Finally, a nod to the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, conducted, except for Esplanade, by David LaMarche (Esplanade was conducted by Tara Simoncic), which provided the programs with superb orchestral support.
This engagement grew in significance as it progressed, with Lovette’s new pieces, outstanding scheduling and casting, and now the demonstrated ability to attract and maintain audiences for virtually anything on the menu. And credit for much of this, in addition to the dancers and choreographers and the various collaborators, goes to Artistic Director Michael Novak. He oversees it all, and I must say that the company now looks particularly strong. I remember wondering how Novak would handle the retirements of outstanding dancers long with the company. Now I don’t. Each dancer fills a niche, each dancer is developed to his or her limits, and watching them all evolve over the years has been a joy. If I had to single out a dancer for particular praise during the full run of performances I attended, it would require listing the entire company. And I suspect we’ve only just seen the beginning of triumphs to come.
But one suggestion: next time, bring back Promethean Fire. It hasn’t been that long away, but still, it’s time.