uwws: paul taylor dance company – a review

By Joshua Windsor

Watching Paul Taylor Dance Company’s return to the UW World Series on Thursday night I couldn’t help but wonder: Is there a Paul Taylor style? The program presented offered a good opportunity to examine this question. The three pieces on the program – Public Domain, Beloved Renegade, and Esplanade – span a chunk of Taylor’s career, from 1968 to 2009.

The earliest work, Public Domain, was the most experimental of the three. The dancers’ movement was heavily informed by the music, which was a collage of recordings found in the public domain arranged by John Herbert McDowell. Decked out in the primary colors of a Jacques Demy film, the dancers embodied the tone and phrasing of the snippets of music that were roughly scored together. The texture of the movement was as varied as the style of the recordings. As the music shifted from choral to patriotic, the dance flowed from narrative vignette to jubilant celebration. The work is an important reminder of a time when being avant-garde did not preclude being joyous.

Jumping forward to 1975, the last performance of the evening was Esplanade. Again, the music, in this case Bach’s Violin Concerto in D Minor, formed the backbone of the piece, with Taylor’s choreography acting as the skin. It is this dance I think of when I envision Paul Taylor’s work. Not that it is a signature piece, but it embodies the qualities I often associate with his creations—a keen eye for quality of movement, a subtle humor, and a love of music. Esplanade also contains an exuberance that points toward a choreographer with a taste for flourish. By allowing the music to guide the dancers, a wide range of emotion cut across the stage while the dance itself remained somewhat abstract.

Beloved Renegade formed the centerpiece of the program and was the most recent dance during the evening. It is here that Taylor parts with much of what I have attributed to him so far. Beloved Renegade is more a narrative piece. There is an added layer of complexity here. Now the movement is a representation of emotion, and the emotion is only informed by the music—not illustrative of it. This sounds abstract, but is apparent onstage. The result is a piece that has lost its joy and struggles to remain engaging for its duration.

Does this answer the question of a Paul Taylor style? To be honest I’m not sure. Based solely on this program, I would say, “yes,” but it is changing. There is no technique essential to his work, yet there is a common voice—a lyrical voice.