Paul Taylor Dance Company’s 2007 City Center season consisted of 18 dances that, in typical Taylor fashion, touched on myriad aspects of the human condition. Foremost, Taylor is about the corporal, manifested in the choreography’s valiant physicality – and its refutation, as seen in the world premiere of Lines of Loss, set to selections from Kronos Quartet’s Early Music. Leading off with a powerfully direct dance of grief by Lisa Viola, who flicked away tears and wrung clasped hands in anguish, solos and small group dances illustrated many types of loss — physical ability, youth, emotional, liberty. They were linked by equally important bridge sections – diagonals, circles, vee shapes – in which the group kneeled somberly, or pulsed voraciously in lunges as the central figure completed his dance.
Julie Tice and Michelle Fleet were surrounded by four men who thwarted their escape, dragging them back by their ankles. Michael Trusnovec embodied decrepitude in a portrait of aging. His shaking, stumbling, and scratching was all the more alarming in contrast with Taylor’s normal celebratory athleticism. Annmaria Mazzini moved with expressionistic angst, pleading for mercy. Trusnovec and Viola portrayed a drifting couple bound by habit, as when he repeatedly coiled over her protectively. Several times, they parted only to be drawn backward to rejoin each time as if by magnetic power before finally bidding adieu with blown kisses. Santo Loquasto designed the stunning backdrop of uneven wavy lines, as well as textured white body suits. As the dancers filed on for the finale in crimson robes, they lay down to form a bloody river, by which the still white-clad Viola stoically strode.
The other premiere, Troilus and Cressida (reduced), is a brief comic romp starring Viola and Rob Kleinendorst plus three cupids and three soldiers, all bedecked in baroque costumes by Loquasto, who also created the eye-popping painted backdrop. The reluctant and lazy lovers were prodded into romance, but not before undergoing antics worthy of a Bugs Bunny chase, including an intricately-timed chain of solos. Kleinendorst was at his best, smiling dopily at his inherited good fortune even as his purple pants were pulled to his ankles, and Viola was as lovably goofy as ever.
The season’s repertory was an especially rewarding and included several gems. Sunset (1983), to Elgar, with a gorgeous pale green foliage backdrop by Alex Katz (who also designed the costumes), ranks among Taylor’s most sublime, poetic works. The women wore cotton sundresses; the men, khaki uniforms with red berets, likely placing them in Spain. Their uniforms imbued their phrases with textured meaning — comradely, dangerous, ill-fated, romantic, heroic. The central duet, performed by Kleinendorst and Trusnovec, is a model of restraint. These sentries on duty checked for danger before easing into delicate pivots and slow hinges, and leaned on one another with a learned intimacy. A quiet rhythm drove the action. The six men repeatedly snapped into military protocol just as they began relaxing into moments of hedonism. The women ebbed on and off stage, flirting, administering nursing aid, distracting the men from their core purpose. In what could be a metaphor for the selflessness of the soldier, with their bodies the men formed a series of bridges for Mazzini, who rolled and stepped on their backs, much to their apparent delight. Jeffrey Smith showed smart verve in this work.
Profiles (1979) and Polaris (1976), both formal studies, fascinate for different reason. As the title Profiles dictates, two couples make frieze-like shapes, tightly chasseeing laterally, fingers curled like paws, even through the protean partnering sections. Mazzini stepped with her knee onto Trusnovec’s shoulder, and he somehow guided her in an orbit around his body. The final moment, he struck an extreme contrapposto and extended an open hand to her – the first such moment of release – and she responded in kind. The focal point of Polaris is Katz’s metal-framed cube inhabited by five who within it move precisely, and outside of it with abandon. They were replaced by a second cast that performed everything again but darkly, to more somber music. Polaris’s metaphoric possibilities are endless.
Roses (1985) is like a big romantic sigh, its tempos for the most part heart-achingly slow to music by Wagner and Baermann. Couples danced their particular brand of duet – Amy Young laced her legs behind Sean Mahoney’s waist, opening her arms in a triumphal burst; Tice and Orion Duckstein playfully supported each others’ walkovers. Viola and Trusnovec serenely performed the focal duet, alternating between first-date ballroom steps and swingy lifts. The audience heaved a collective ‘aahh’ as the curtain dropped on this parable of patient love.
The season’s big dark dances were Banquet of Vultures (2005) and Promethean Fire (2002). Though a relatively new work, Banquet is often mentioned in the same breath as Kurt Jooss’ statement against war, The Green Table, and rightly so. Banquet gains horror with each viewing, each needless death-by-war. In the opening scene, after soldiers search futilely by candlelight and a cluster of them heaves in turmoil, Trusnovec floats into the light from upstage where he’d been creepily watching the entire time. It is the cunning and periodic disappearance of Trusnovec, and his suspenseful re-appearance, that terrifies, as much as his surgical violence. Promethean Fire is like a big Swiss clock, precise in its mechanisms and filled with jewels. To dissect the choreography is a master class in composition. Add to that undercurrents of collapse and rebirth, the classical score by Bach and black velvet costumes, and you have a monument of dance. Trusnovec and Viola both exuded gallant stoicism on their path to triumphant survival. This oft-paired duo never fails to reward viewers.
Two costume-prominent comedic works returned: Book of Beasts (1971) and Piece Period (1962). The latter spoofs historical periods’ dances and foppery, interspersed with visual sight gags. It featured Chen See in harlequin patterned finery, Kleinendorst in powdered wig, and Viola in princessy chiffon. Young was particularly sniffy in her noble lady’s strut and silly gesturing. Book of Beasts unleashed a parade of affable characters, grounded by a court of black velveted… stagehands. Chen See was Squonk, carried on hanging from a stick and costumed like a troll. As Phoenix, Trusnovec was fabulous in gold paillettes worthy of Brian Boitano, bearing crepe paper flames which he expertly whipped and flung as if competing in a new Olympic sport. Duckstein aptly portrayed Deity in colors worthy of Mantegna. Coincidentally, Kleinendorst’s Demon, a tufted lizard monster, sported foot-long talons and wielded them in many inventive ways, just like Edward Scissorhands across the river in Brooklyn. The piece ended, logically, in the kind of défilé traditionally seen at ballet galas.
Perhaps because of its mens’ costumes (Loquasto’s loose pants and tanks) and Donald York’s hyperactive score, Syzygy (1987) feels of its time more than most of Taylor’s oeuvre, which is generally speaking amazingly difficult to date. Viola was the calm eye of the storm surrounded by a hurricane of movement. The dancers skittered and flipped energy from their fingers and toes, in contrast to the usual finished shapes by Taylor. Trusnovec seemed boneless, rippling his arms, then snapping them taut like a trick rope. Mazzini, as is her tendency, unleashed energy like a bomb, then reined it all back in a daring hinge. James Samson played adagio to new company member Laura Halzack’s allegro. A little Broadway razzle-dazzle gave Syzygy an extra shot of adrenaline.
Naturally, a healthy accounting of Taylor’s lyrical formal work peppered the season. Aureole (1962), performed just once, featured Duckstein in the key male solo. He danced in his straightforward, yet radiant, way. Halzack showed off her elegant, serene line, and Francisco Graciano displayed a sprightly punch. Duckstein, again featured in Arden Court, showed tree-like strength as Young stepped on his thighs, and in a tough penche with her clinging to him. It contrasted with the rapid-fire fusillades of leaps and jumps that are the work’s hallmark. The luminous Parisa Kobdeh parried quick footwork with Chen See in Airs, in which Halzack had more opportunity to show her balletic presence. And Esplanade rung out the season with gusto, its relentless driving pedestrian phrases mixing with virtuoso feats of prowess. That’s Taylor – one minute the dancers are folks like us; the next, they’re superheroes. And everything in between.
Read Susan Yung’s interview with Michael Trusnovec of Paul Taylor Dance Company at: