With over 144 iconic works in his repertoire, Paul Taylor is one of the most powerful choreographers of the world’s spirit, so it’s not surprising that the Friday night performance, July 29th, at the Durham Performing Arts Center filled the theater with an enthusiastic audience of dancers, choreographers, and Taylor aficionados. The American Dance Festival makes Durham the center of the dance world for a magical six-and-a-half weeks every summer; and since Taylor is one of the prominent figures in that world, it makes sense that the performance of the Paul Taylor Dance Company is pivotal to the season. The company took over DPAC Friday and Saturday nights, thrilled its toughest audience, stole everyone’s breath away, and gave ADF an amazing gift on Taylor’s own birthday (he turned 86 on July 29th).
Taylor’s company brought four classic dances to the two-night show at DPAC; and from the buzz around the theater, two of them had not been presented for many years. Even before the dancers took the stage, a special electricity rippled through the crowd. It’s difficult to impress the dance world, but Taylor’s accomplishments stretch over so many decades that the sheer fact that his impact is still being felt makes him a king in dance, as well as one of the most prolific artists this country has produced. He became a professional dancer and choreographer in 1954, at age 24; and by 1957, he already earned a reputation as the “naughty boy” of dance. But that reputation wasn’t based on how much his dancers were or were not wearing; rather, Taylor took on subjects that shocked and surprised. His lampoon of American icons in From Sea to Shining Sea (1965) and his look into spousal abuse in Big Bertha (1970) underscored his genius in examining deeper, sometimes psychological issues, in his dance. We saw perfect examples of the heavy themes that Taylor examines in the performances that made up the quartet of Taylor dances at the Friday and Saturday performances.
The first of the quartet — and I use that term loosely to indicate that there were four dances that had no connection to each other — was entitled Snow White. It showcased Taylor’s sense of humor. First performed in 1983, the dance retells the fairytale with a few minor changes (i.e., there are 5 dwarves instead of 7). But its tongue-in-cheek look at the impossibility of the tale and the silliness of the instant love story create a bit of a sarcasm in the dance between Snow White (Parisa Khobdeh) and the Prince (Sean Mahoney) that makes for both interesting dance and a humorous spin that the adults in the audience appreciated.
Another surprise in this dance was the animation of the apple (Heather McGinley). Though anyone who knows the tale will agree that without the apple, the tale has no inciting incident (or allusion to Biblical tales), humanizing the apple creates some tension between characters, that before this dance, had only been imagined. The over-emphasized arches and geometric footwork of the dancers gave the dance an exuberant feel.
In the second dance, four dancers (Michael Trusnovec, Laura Halzack, Eran Bugge, and Michael Novak) create an abstract painting of a dance called Profiles. First performed in 1979, this performance relies on very exact lighting (by Mark Litvin) to create angles and curves on the dancers and to highlight their austere emotions and movements. The dance seems to be a metaphor for the awkwardness of life and humanity, with the dancers moving crab-like across the stage, rolling, crawling atop each other, mimicking the line that one might cross from the human form to something more robotic.
After a short intermission, Images filled the stage with bare-breasted women and gladiator-like men, a powerful representation of the bas relief figures on ancient Greek pottery. The eight dancers (Michael Trusnovec, Robert Kleinendorst, Laura Halzack, Jamie Rae Walker, Eran Bugge, Madelyn Ho, Francisco Graciano, and Heather McGinley) moved through a series of stunning dances that often resembled the tableaus that one might see on that ancient pottery. The story of those images accounts for a pair of totem birds, an antique cortege that pairs the fabulous Madelyn Ho with the rest of the cast, a pair of totem dolphins, the Oracle danced by Laura Halzack with amazing expressionistic hands, moon reflections, a pair of totem horses, and ended with the full cast in a tribute to the sun.
The Friday-night show closed with Promethean Fire, first performed in 2002, inspired by Shakespeare, and accompanied by music written by Bach. The familiar opening strains of “Toccata & Fugue in D minor” created a spooky, Bram Stoker-inspired atmosphere for the dancers in black leotards moving against a black velvet backdrop. The dance is classic Taylor, stiff arms and legs, cocked hands, angles and abstracts, with the occasional body rolling across the floor. It was tumultuous, organized confusion. The dancers’ arched bodies crowded the stage, creating a mood; yet everyone is singly at his/her angst-ridden best. Though the dancers are equally as talented, my eye was continually drawn to Michael Trusnovec, whose charisma almost stole the show from the rest of the dancers.
Taylor’s show closes the season on this year’s American Dance Festival, and appropriately so. His genius and his dancers’ stellar talents were the perfect choice to cap off yet another stellar collection of debuts (5!), dance companies (26) and choreographers at 13 different venues throughout the Triangle. The rich fabric of the arts weaves the Triangle together, and the ADF is one of the most successful events of the year. Congratulations to American Dance Festival on another glorious season!
SECOND OPINION: July 30th Durham, NC Five Points Star review by Kate Dobbs Ariail: https://thefivepointsstar.com/2016/07/30/paul-taylor-dance-company-closes-adf-2016-a-love-note-to-micheal-trusnovec/; and July 27th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Jackson Cooper: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/paul-taylor-dance-company/Event?oid=5046583.
The Paul Taylor Dance Company in PROMETHEAN FIRE (American Dance Festival, July 29 and 30 at the Durham Performing Arts Center).
SHOW: http://www.americandancefestival.org/performance/2016-2/paul-taylor-dance-company/, https://www.facebook.com/events/618526204978259/, http://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/paul-taylor-dance-company-4, and https://www.facebook.com/events/576819569165402/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: http://ptamd.org/ptdc-promo/.
PRESENTER: http://www.americandancefestival.org/, https://www.facebook.com/AmerDanceFest, https://twitter.com/AmerDanceFest, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Dance_Festival.
VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.
Promethean Fire (2002): http://ptamd.org/artists-dances/taylor-repertoire-alphabetically/ (official web page, scroll down for details).
Paul Taylor Dance Company (American Modern Dance company formed in 1954 and based in New York, NY): http://ptamd.org/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/PaulTaylorDanceCompany (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/paultaylordance (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Taylor_Dance_Company (Wikipedia).
[RUN HAS CONCLUDED.]
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater, music, and dance reviews. She is also a writer, editor, writing coach at Reno’s Literary Services of Durham. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click https://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.