The Paul Taylor Dance Company’s Promethean Fire Sets the American Dance Festival Ablaze

The Paul Taylor Dance Company will perform Scudorama during its 7 p.m. Saturday, June 29th, program (photo by Paul B. Goode)
The Paul Taylor Dance Company will perform Scudorama during its 7 p.m. Saturday, June 29th, American Dance Festival program in Duke University’s R.J. Reynolds Industries Theater  (photo by Paul B. Goode)

If I quench thee, thou flaming minister… I know not where
is that Promethean heat/That can thy light relume.

Othello, Act V, Scene II —

This year’s American Dance Festival in Durham, NC, which is presenting Two Different Programs of Classic Paul Taylor Dance!, is dedicated to Paul Taylor, one of our most accomplished and beloved American choreographers. Taylor passed away in September 2018. The Paul Taylor Dance Company first appeared at ADF in 1961, back when the festival was located at Connecticut College in New London, CT. This 2019 season marks the 50th appearance of the company at the festival.

This year, ADF is presenting two different programs of Taylor’s classic works. Program A (all ADF premieres) includes: Aureole, Scudorama, and Promethean Fire; and Program B includes: Airs, Dust, and Company B.

The lobby walls of the R.J. Reynolds Industries Theater on the second floor of the Bryan Center on Duke University’s West Campus are lined with rare photos and artifacts from Paul Taylor’s life. Plan to arrive early to enjoy this collection.

In her curtain speech ADF executive director Jodee Nimerichter explained that the Reynolds Industries Theater was specifically chosen for the Taylor programs this year, so that the audience could have a more up-close-and-personal look at the dances. The show began with a short film about Taylor, received with great appreciation by an audience of friends, fans, students and colleagues.

Director emeritus Charles L. Reinhardt shared a humorous memory about young Paul Taylor as an ADF student. New at backstage work, Taylor caused an embarrassing curtain mishap. This was “paid back” decades later during one of Taylor’s ADF shows.

Thursday night’s first piece was the lyrical Aureole (1962) — a sunny fusion of modern movement and ballet set to the baroque music of Handel. Dancer Sean Mahoney performs the famously beautiful adagio, originally danced by Paul Taylor himself. Following it was the extreme opposite, Scudorama (1963), set to an original midcentury modern score by Clarence Jackson. In a Twilight Zone view of purgatory, the dancers take the forms of animals and minions that pester the newly arrived dead. The angular body poses and odd, macabre locomotion (sometimes under blankets) was disturbing and humorous at the same time. Artist Alex Katz designed the colorful but creepy costumes, blankets, and set. In a 2009 New York Times interview, Taylor commented on Scudorama, “Aureole was so pretty,” he said. “I wanted to do something ugly.”

At intermission, the 2019 Balasaraswat/Joy Anne Dewey Beineke Endowed Chair for Distinguished Teaching was presented to Bette de Jong, Paul Taylor’s favorite dancing partner and the celebrated rehearsal director for the Paul Taylor Dance Company. ADF dean Leah Cox called de Jong “an essential force that has kept Paul Taylor’s dances alive.”

The final dance of the evening was Promethean Fire, which is set to a combined score of Johann Sebastian Bach’s toccata and fugue in D minor, prelude in E flat, and choral prelude. When the first few notes of the toccata were played, the audience exploded with applause and cheers of expectation. The piece has three movements: the first and third performed by the corps, joined together in the second movement by a pas de deux.

When Promethean Fire premiered in the summer of 2002, some wondered if it might be Taylor’s response to the attacks of 9/11. Dancers in black velvet with metallic trim form into structure-like tableaus that collapse or fall into heaps upon the stage. Even the name, based on the Greek titan Prometheus, responsible for bringing fire and the gift of metalwork to mankind, supports that idea to some degree. But to reduce the dance to something that literal does not take into account the inventiveness and breadth of the piece.

For 2019 audiences, Promethean Fire calls upon a spirit of hope, celebration, and rebirth, while never collapsing into sentimentality. Never resting or pausing, Taylor’s originality of motion via complex lines and patterns upon patterns, combines with his signature fluidity of motion. Promethean Fire is a dance masterpiece to be enjoyed by audiences now and in the future.

The Paul Taylor Dance Company will go on. In September 2018, Michael Novak, a member of the company since 2010, became its second artistic director. In announcing Novak’s appointment as artistic director designate in March 2018, Paul Taylor said, “Michael has mastered our repertory and steeped himself in dance history. He understands the need to nurture the past, present and future of modern dance. I look forward to working with him and preparing him to assume artistic leadership of my company.”

“I am determined to further Paul Taylor’s vision,” said Novak, “and to bring his gems to every part of the globe … to honor past dance makers and encourage future artists … and to make sure modern dance remains a transformative force for good in our lives long into the future.”

The Paul Taylor Dance Company will perform Company B as part of its 8 p.m. Friday, June 28th, American Dance Festival program in Duke University’s R.J. Reynolds Industries Theater  (photo by Paul B. Goode)

The American Dance Festival presents the Paul Taylor Dance Company in TWO DIFFERENT PROGRAMS OF CLASSIC PAUL TAYLOR DANCE! at 8 p.m. June 28 (Program B) and 1 p.m. (Children’s Matinee) and 7 p.m. June 29 (Program A) in the R.J. Reynolds Industries Theater in the Bryan Center, 125 Science Dr., Durham, North Carolina 27708, on Duke University’s West Campus. TICKETS: $38-$54.


Duke University Box Office: 919-684-4444,, or

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NOTE 1: From June 13th through July 20th, Paul Taylor will be the subject of a photo exhibit in the lobby of R.J. Reynolds Industries Theater.

NOTE 2: On Friday, June 28th, there will be a post-performance discussion, moderated by dance critic Suzanne Carbonneau.


Paul Taylor Dance Company (American Modern Dance company, formed in 1954 and based in New York, NY): (official website), (Internet Broadway Database), (Facebook page), (Twitter page), and (Wikipedia).

Paul Taylor (Pittsburgh, PA-born American dancer and choreographer, 1930-2018): (PTDC bio), (Encyclopædia Britannica), (John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts bio), (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), and (Wikipedia).

REVIEWER: Nancy Rich is a local director/choreographer, with a love for the performing arts and a passion for supporting local artistic work. Nancy and her husband, Rod, own and operate Monkeybravo, a video production company. Nancy is one of the founders of Actors Comedy Lab and participates in local theater as a hired gun, a volunteer and, on very rare occasions, an actor. Nancy recently wrote a series of monologues called The PRINCESS Talks, performed at the 2017 Women’s Theatre Festival. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.