Paul Taylor Dance Company
3 May 2009,
Novellus Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
Photo: Tom Caravaglia
The theatre has never really been an abstract place. Sure, directors like Adolph Appia and Robert Wilson have composed miracles of light in it, but at bottom theatre remains a stubbornly physical space animated nevertheless by dreams. Choreographer Paul Taylor's dances are filled with dreams both “good “ and “bad”. The three on the third and last program his company did on its annual spring visit here showed these opposing aspects to be two sides of the same coin. That subject, whether stated or not, is always somehow love, which can be seen as dark or light, or something in between. A play of acceptance and / or rejection, and – sometimes both at once.
Dance is a public and private spectacle, and the corps of nine – six men and three women – in the curtainraiser, Arden Court (1981 ) are openly social and like being watched. Taylor's gestures for them matched and expanded the equally Baroque ones from five expertly scored and highly varied symphonies by William Boyce ( 1711-1779 ). This was a dance or interlocking suite of dances which went from the public – it began with one for men alone, to the private realm – most notably in the slow movement, where the dancers, all male in a line facing the audience, supported an apparently suffering or dying soloist. Modern dance threw 19th century story ballets out the window. Still there was enough tension between the explicit and implicit to provide a sort of throughline here and Taylor's dancers-- the men barechested throughout, the women in decorous short skirts , in Tiffany's Gene Morris' mottled pastels, made their complex vocabulary of moves look easy as pie.
The thinnest of storylines – a kind of beach scene – connected the jagged vignettes in Private Domain (1969 ), which is also the title of Taylor's wonderfully readable autobio.. Life is full of the unresolved and unexplained, and refused or unknown information can make our imaginations work overtime as does Proust's Swann who thinks his mistress Odette is two timing him. Taylor's dance gets its juice from the contrast / conflict between the said and the unsaid, or in this case the seen and the unseen. NY painter Alex Katz's set – he had the stage “masked” on both sides, with two flat pillarlike verticals – complicated the picture by refusing to give the onlooker a full view. And I think onlooker's the operative word because the audience was invited, if not encouraged , to watch a kind of Totentanz of pushing and shoving , affectless couplings and uncouplings, and gestures – mostly sharp and very confrontational – which could be read as noirish revenge or despair. Yannis Xemakis' all start and stop with string glissandi and inadvertent brass and wind bleeps Atrees ( 1958-62) was a perfectly unsettling complement. And three men in Katz's navy blue square cuts, and five women in his seafoam bikinis gave it its undeniable sexual charge. The piece, like other dark or “bad” dreams in Taylor's catalog, was obviously born out of inner necessity, or as Tristan Tzara put it, describing his own poetry, or perhaps poetry in general, “ a private bell for inexplicable needs. “ And those needs, being unconscious, are anyone's guess.
The ground Offenbach Overtures ( 1995 ) occupied was a lot firmer, but full of surprise,. And it was surely titled tongue in cheek as it had overtures, plus a waltz, and a galop, and could have been just knock-off Balanchine, without the frisson of Taylor's sly humor. But a hilarious send up of the can-can, a fists up knockdown drag out between male rivals, two deliriously flirting girls who kept losing their beat, and vigorous parodies of the 19th century grand romantic style gave that repertory a kick in the pants . Santo Loquasto 's red – Overtures began and ended in silhouette --– with black costumes, the girls got hints of white – were a sort of revisionist take on the honor so deadpan serious in Conrad's story The Duellists, in Ridley Scott's film of the same name, and the dancing throughout was both delirious and razor sharp. Jennifer Tipton's lighting for all three pieces let each one live and breathe on its own specific and very unique terms.
Taylor's 's art's not afraid of the light or the dark. And I don't think it's a stretch to say that he understands that the comic and tragic parts of love are built into our DNA. We're hardwired, come what may.