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Weekend Reviews / Dance Review

Paul Taylor Company: Of Ancient Myths and Passionate Moves

April 09, 2001|LEWIS SEGAL | TIMES DANCE CRITIC

Steeped in Jennifer Tipton's honey-colored lighting and further idealized by Santo Loquasto's revealing costumes, the members of the Paul Taylor Dance Company spent much of a memorable weekend at the Alex Theatre looking like effigies from an antique sculpture garden or figures in an ancient frieze.

Emphasizing either flattened, quasi-archaic poses or more rounded neoclassic stances, Taylor's three newest works and one of his oldest in the two-program Glendale repertory evoked rites and enigmas of a mythic past--a time when a simple touch might induce either passionate devotion or sudden blindness, and when destructive energies scoured the earth like whirlwinds.

Even the sunny celebration of relationships in "Dandelion Wine" (2000) had its central mystery: Richard Chen See in bright yellow, invoking in his opening solo the Locatelli concerto that drove the dancing and the high spirits that sustained it. In the wake of this gentle, animating, ever-watchful spirit came pairs and then chains of dancers happily interacting: Michael Trusnovec and Robert Kleinendorst in a playful duet, for instance.

Reaching out became a major motif in an ensemble midway through, and the need for connection never went unsatisfied. Momentarily alone, Julie Tice watched Orion Duckstein and Amy Young in a rhapsodic duet--and then joined it, with the possibilities for loving interaction expanding through her involvement. In "Dandelion Wine," there was always more than enough love for everybody.

But none whatsoever in "Fiends Angelical" (2000). To shrieking string-bursts by George Crumb, priestess Silvia Nevjinsky presided over a dangerous, unyielding subculture, reviving Lisa Viola and Patrick Corbin after they strangled one another to death in a combative duet and leading everyone in sharp, abrupt, assaultive moves that seem about to draw blood.

Body-weight forcefully driven into the floor also helped make "Fiends Angelical" belong to another world than the carefree buoyancy of "Dandelion Wine," but the dancers in general, and Trusnovec in particular, looked just as spectacular playing leg-pumping, floor-rolling delinquents than their more lyrical roles on the programs.

"Arabesque" (1999), however, combined the space-devouring dynamism of "Fiends Angelical" with the shimmering lyricism of "Dandelion Wine." A fast, fluid suite to Debussy, with Nevjinsky again central and mysterious, it sometimes suggested the dancers were posing for Grecian urns, and elsewhere that they were carrying them. The cast always seemed to be rushing toward a great, glorious event or realization.

*

Powerful turning leaps by Takehiro Ueyama defined "Arabesque" technique at its most brilliant, but key gestural details (all the hands-across-the-eyes statements, for instance) kept the work teeming with expressive implications.

On first acquaintance this season, "Dandelion Wine," "Fiends Angelical" and "Arabesque" all confirmed Taylor's knack for creating atmospheric dance ceremonies; solo roles in which the dancer functioned as a prophet or seer; poignant small stories within large, plotless showpieces. These characteristics or achievements also enriched some of the engagement's more familiar works--but never with greater majesty or flair than in "Musical Offering" (1986).

In stark apparel by Gene Moore, the dancers alternated between tightly closed positions (arms crossed over their chests) and more open, flattened shapes, with everyone often rocking stiffly from one foot to the other. From these bold themes and images, Taylor shaped a towering, structurally complex equivalent to the orchestrated Bach score underpinning the choreography.

Maureen Mansfield served as the central mourner in this large-scale dance requiem, but in many sections Taylor momentarily turned cast members into objects of veneration. At one point, Corbin became ritually glorified by Tice, Heather Berest and Annamaria Mazzini, after which Chen See, Trusnovec, Kleinendorst and Ted Thomas carried Kristi Egtvedt aloft like a sacred statue or icon.

By the finale, the arms-cross-the-chest motif evolved into mass breast-beating and the rocking step into kneeling supplication. Only Mansfield remained standing, reaching up for hope or comfort as everyone sank around her.

Melancholy also pervaded "Eventide" (1997), the only Taylor work in which the dancers seemed to move as independent beings rather than instruments of choreographic design. Starting in a kind of restrained lyricism befitting the music by Ralph Vaughan Williams, it finished in daring simplicity: a long sequence of walking steps in which the various couples who had been previously united now separated formally, solemnly, as if for the last time.

If unanswered questions hovered over "Eventide," the only one left at the end of "Funny Papers" (1994) was "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight?"--prompted by the song of the same name amid other silly songs.

The collaboration between Taylor and his dancers played amiably with pop-dance forms and concert-dance pretensions, but took a long time to heat up on Saturday. However, Duckstein's deliriously over-the-top performance in "I Am Woman" saved the whole charade. Sometimes anything less than too much just isn't enough.

Besides the dancers previously mentioned, the company also included James Samson. Taped music accompanied all the pieces.

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