The American Dance Festival (ADF) has presented some exciting new dance companies this season – Gregory Maqoma/Vuyani Dance, Adele Myers, Tere O’Connor Dance. However, it has balanced this with companies whose work has stood the test of time and are ADF audience favorites. Pilobolus lent its quirky choreographic explorations to the season back in June, and the Paul Taylor Dance Company closes out the Festival’s penultimate week on July 18 and 19 with a program that includes an ADF-commissioned work celebrating the company’s 60th anniversary.
Paul Taylor began making dances in 1954 and has been making two to three new works every year since. This adds up to an astonishing body of work. The two pieces that framed the new work on the July 18 program reached back into Taylor’s earlier work and proved that good choreography is good choreography, whether on first viewing or nearly 40 years later, performed by dancers who weren’t even born when the piece was created.
Diggity (1978) is a breezy, fun piece. The curtain rises to reveal Eran Bugge standing in the middle of a stage strewn with freestanding metal cutouts of dogs (modeled on DeeDee, Taylor’s dog at the time, according to one article I found) created by renowned artist Alex Katz. Bugge’s whole countenance shouted “Isn’t this fun?” and thus began a delightful, sometimes cheeky romp for eight dancers. The dancers (Taylor dancers are always so lovely to watch) flitted and turned and threaded their way in and amongst the little metal canines, the lightest of sauté arabesques and grand jetés carrying them through the space in sweeping arcs of movement, contrasted by un-self-consciously silly leap-frog sequences. Donald York’s score ranged from spare, sexy saxophone solos to Aaron Copland-esque expansiveness. Jennifer Tipton’s lighting kept it all light and bright.
Marathon Cadenzas was commissioned by the American Dance Festival in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Taylor Company. The setting is a depression-era dance marathon. A mirror ball hangs amidst pennant streamers – an attempt to lend a festive air to what was a desperate event often lasting weeks at a time, in which the dancers participated for the cash prizes and free food that could be won if one was the last person standing. The costumes (designed by longtime Taylor collaborator Santo Loquasto) – bias-cut satin evening gowns, spectator shoes, flirty skirts, ankle socks worn with high-heeled pumps – beautifully conveyed the era and the characters: the sleazy emcee (Sean Mahoney), the sailors on shore leave (James Samson and Francisco Graciano), the sexy girl (Laura Halzack) angling for the win by seducing the emcee. The choreography drew primarily from the swing dance steps of the period, but there was also a minuet sequence that oddly fit right into the context of the piece. Early on, Michelle Fleet danced a frantically fast energetic solo in her wide-legged jumpsuit, and Michael Trusnovec embodied the exhaustion of all the dancers toward the end in a lovely, halting, heavy-limbed adage. Raymond Scott’s music and James F. Ingalls’ lighting completed the telling of the darkly humorous story.
Cloven Kingdom (1976) explores the dichotomy of our formal, social selves and our more primitive nature. Set to a mash-up of Baroque and tribal drum music (combined by John Herbert McDowell), the choreography switches back and forth between elegant, soaring, expansive movements and angular, crouching, earthy ones – sometimes in the space of only a few counts. The effect is often disjointed, reflecting the internal conflict between our social selves and our baser instincts.
The men are dressed in the formal uniform of white tie and tails, the women in long dresses with full, flowing skirts (designed by Scott Barrie). Perfectly suited to the more polished, graceful movement sequences in the piece, the costumes became silly when the men crawled and crab-walked and the women hopped and did cartwheels, the semi-circles of their skirts tracing colorful arcs through the space. The highlight of Cloven Kingdom is a highly athletic section for the four men (Michael Trusnovec, Michael Apuzzo, Michael Novak, and George Smallwood) during which they jump and turn and crawl and hop in a ritualistic, trancelike fashion. John Rawlings’ mirrored headpieces added another layer of meaning to the work, perhaps reflecting back to the audience its true nature. Jennifer Tipton once again designed the lighting.
The lovely thing about Paul Taylor’s work is his incredible range – from frothy, fun pieces like Diggity to darker works like Scudorama. One never knows exactly what to expect from a new Taylor piece, and for me that’s half the fun. This year’s ADF program leans to Taylor’s lighter side, which will likely appeal to a wide audience.
This program will be repeated on July 19; for details, see the sidebar.