Paul Taylor: Dated but Still Relevant

Written by Mariko Nagashima
Paul Taylor Dance Company in The Uncommited Photo by Tom Caravaglia
The Paul Taylor Dance Company graced the stage at UW’s Meany Hall this weekend (October 4–6, 2012) with a set of three works that displayed Taylor’s unquestionable genius in the craft of choreography. From the cheery jubilance of Kith and Kin to the melancholy solitude of The Uncommitted, to the pure dance spectacle of Brandenburgs, the densely constructed works and talented dancers displayed many facets of Taylor’s oeuvre. Overall, however, the three works felt slightly dated, even though one was created as recently as 2011. The costumes, (long skirts for the women in Kith and Brandenburgs that often hid their lines), and a sense of old-school formality in the movement both contributed to this sense. Taylor’s movement retains a particular aesthetic and form, more about the shapes created than the internal motivations behind them, which is often seen in the current generation of choreographers. This, however, makes it all the more important to continue watching his work, as it lends perspective to emerging choreographic trends.

The evening began with Kith and Kin (1987), a bright romp of an inter-generational family portrait. Set to a lively and lilting melody by Mozart, the work featured a central mother and father figure, their eight progeny, and a spritely woman who seemed to be the essence of the kindred family spirit. The “children” in the work bubbled with boundless energy, polka-ing, prancing, and leap-frogging about the stage in circles and kaleidoscopic patterns around the parents. A family largely at play; they clapped hands and bounded off the floor like springing gazelle. Replete with images of family harmony, they constructed a steeple with their clasped arms and all traipsed gaily through the arch. Later, two children echoed the movements of the parents, learning from their example. Clean lines and a striking openness across the chest of Heather McGinley as the “family essence” provided a marked contrast with the otherwise grounded and folk-like steps. She served as a catalyst whenever she breezed past, an enlightening presence throughout.

The Uncommitted, Taylor’s newest work, which premiered at the American Dance Festival in 2011, explored how young people in contemporary culture seem unable to create lasting committed relationships. A thorough meditation on this tendency, the piece never sought to explore the causes of the quandary, only to portray the melancholy and regret that accompanies it. Moving panels of charcoal-hued fabric that subtly shifted in Jennifer Tipton’s enigmatic lighting, created a fitting backdrop for the restless and shifting relationships portrayed. Less fitting were the costumes: multi-colored floral ensembles with unfortunate partial skirts for the women, they added little to the piece. The opening section featured consecutive solos where each dancer attempted to cope with solitude, displaying various degrees of frustration, anguish, and often withering pathos. In a somewhat mesmerizing, but eventually predictable transition, the ensemble of dancers rushed from the wings in an unexpected new pattern with each pass, enveloping each soloist and leaving a different stranded at center stage. Dancers coupled off in the second section. Their interactions ranged from playful to aggressive, but all were fleeting, creating a blurred miasma of relationships. Though no one appeared perturbed by the transitory nature of these interactions, the pervading melancholy established by Arvo Pärt’s music seemed to reveal their true emotions.

Taylordisplayed his mastery of spatial patterns and intricate movement in the final section of The Uncommitted where the ensemble of 11 danced together in a ceaseless ebb and flow of pulsing jumps and swooping arcs to the floor. For a moment they are all united by this common phrase, but again, it doesn’t last, and, at the end only one couple remains, who eventually part ways. Since the work is meant to portray contemporary relationships it seems strange that Taylorchose to depict only heterosexual and rather stereotypical scenarios. Never one to shy away from weighty issues, this slightly conventional portrayal seems almost out of character.

Paul  Taylor Dance Company in Brandenburgs
Photo by Lois Greenfield 
The evening’s final work, Brandenburgs, draws its name from Bach’s “Brandenburg Concertos,” which accompany it. A work of pure movement and the joy found in it, the layered architecture skillfully mirrored that of the music. Though they were never at odds, the two components seemed to gently push and pull; each teasing added nuance out of the other. A corps of five men leapt with gusto, but often seemed a bit stilted, as if holding their breath to get through the challenging choreography. Michael Trusnovec as the male lead showed a remarkable aplomb and a majestically sinewy port de bras in a masterful solo. And the three lead women, Amy Young, Parisa Khobdeh, and Eran Bugge, each brought a unique charisma to their roles.

Regardless of the somewhat old-fashioned aesthetic, the choreography was expertly performed by Taylor’s  troupe of skilled dancers, and the show provided clear examples of his honed skill for building complex, visually engaging, and largely satisfying dances.