Paul Taylor was one of the most innovative choreographers in of the 20th century and he was creating dance up to the time of his death in 2018. His indelible legacy lives in the 147 repertory works he made for his company over the course of 60 years. He left that repertory in the hands of his successor Michael Novak, a former company dancer and now artistic director and leading the Paul Taylor Dance Company into a new era. The loss of Paul Taylor could have spelled an uncertain future for the company, but, based on their recent program at the Annenberg Center/NextMove Series they are look as vital as ever going forward.
The company is on a nationwide tour, and Novak programmed a concert of company classics that showcase Taylor’s choreographic range and the mettle of the current roster of dancers.
The concert opened with a poignant short film retrospective that includes footage of Taylor dancing that reminded everyone of a certain age of Paul’s own arresting power as a dancer. In interview clip of Taylor answering with some impatience to an interviewer, “Well, I’m a dancemaker.” And the three contemporary works performed at the Annenberg was more than a reminder of what an American master he was.
‘Syzygy’ from 1987 is framed by a backdrop of a comet dust streaking across space. The full company, dressed in short tunics, by designer Santo Loquasto, bolt onstage in in staggered unison lines in frenzied abstract, movement, their bodies in subject to invisible gravitational fields. Meanwhile, composer Donald York’s electronica is a space magnetic field that also drives the dancers.
The choreography is fast paced and full of asymmetrical, chaotic configurations of steps explosive layouts, fragmented phrasing and turns jarringly moving in forward and reverse. Cleaved bodies crashing to the floor, dancers vanish, then catapulted back in the cyclonic choreo, their limbs in counterbalance but Taylor’s making it all dizzying choreographic sense. Within that, there is Taylor’s wit, that are completely revelatory choreographic ground. Taylor’s creative control perhaps symbolized by soloist Madelyn Ho’s is a classical pose rotates slowly in space unaffected by the chaotic forces around her.
Next, ‘Sunset,’ scored to symphonic elegies by Edward Elgar, the ballet is a fine example of Taylor’s synthesis of ballet-modernist idioms. The scene is a ship during wartime and the soldiers on deck. Taylor documents their dreams of sweethearts at home, the battles at sea, their hidden fear and camaraderie and even a shipboard gay romance, the battle at sea, and the reality of the life and death dangers they face. All of the dramaturg is conveyed through Taylor’s masterful storytelling prowess.
‘Piazzolla Caldera’ (1997) is one of the most erotic tango-ballets ever staged outside of Buenos Ares. Café lamps hang over the dancers as the scenes- de- action play out against a deep vermilion backdrop. The sensual atmospherics of composer Astor Piazzolla’s tango music is intoxicating. Tango on modern dancer bodies can lose some of the earthiness within the precision of the patterns and the dramatic attitude. Taylor for the most part is able to overcome that.
The full company is onstage with td the other side in tight black pants and men, bare chested. Each group stakes their ground in halting, dramatic group stomps toward each other in formation, their arms arced back like a matador’s, their eyes blazing.
Piazzolla’s sultry dialogues of the violin and bandoneon in ‘Conierto pada Quinteto’ with partners Eran Bugge and George Smallwood squaring off in a sexually charged tango, That heats up, even more, when Madelyn Ho joins them. Both dancers lifted in turn sequences by Smallwood and a ménage that reaches the bluest flashdance.
In ‘Celos,’ dancers Michael Apuzzo and Alex Clayton play soused buddies who after a few punch-drunk acrobatics to stay on their feet, eventually fall down and dance the horizontal tango. They pass out on top of each other upstage as Maria Ambroise and Lee Duverneck pas de deux, Taylor’s potent tango-balletic fusion.
The full company returns for the lusty ‘Escalo’ that left the dancers smoldering on the floor as the curtain came down. Paul Taylor brought his company to the Annenberg Stage over a dozen times over the years, and it is a true joy, now that he is gone, this company is as good as ever and just as important, breathing new life in Taylor’s repertory. Michael Novak is making sure his works don’t turn into museum pieces, but full of artistic interpretation and dancer immediacy.
For more information about the Paul Taylor Dance Company’s current tour go to www.ptamd.org