Sunday, April 19, 2015

Paul Taylor Dance Company

Paul Taylor Dance Company
presented by San Francisco Performances
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
April 18th, 2015

Paul Taylor Dance Company was back in the Bay Area this weekend, presented by San Francisco Performances at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The last two days of their five-performance engagement brought Program C, a collection of four Taylor compositions dating from 1961 to 2006. It is always a privilege to see work from this iconic modern dance master, though Program C was a bit of a mixed bag.

A tree structure comprised of multi-colored net fell stage right. Two men appeared wearing a futuristic combination of swimwear, fencing and wrestling attire. Two women joined the strange scene clad completely in white, including white face paint and white bonnets. This is Taylor’s Fibers, a quartet that first premiered back in 1961. Choreographically, old-school modern dance dominated the action: defined arm positions, stag leaps, fourth position spirals, parallel sissones and assembl├ęs. The choreographic clarity was wonderful to see but the piece’s bizarre visuals really took away from the movement’s physical power. Not everything choreographed in the 1960s looks dated, but Fibers did; and so, felt like an odd choice to open the program. After a brief pause, the company danced an abridged version of Taylor’s Troilus and Cressida from 2006. Here, a completely different mood took over; one of whimsy, humor and farce. Dancers tripped, costumes fell off, and one character was sloppily drunk, all on purpose. The audience loved it, but the excerpt was a little too over the top, full of obvious and pointed jokes.

Everything changed in the second act with 1997’s Eventide. Taylor’s ensemble work for ten dancers was absolutely lovely. Nostalgic grace flowed as the couples swayed back and forth, gently held hands and traveled in circular pathways. As Eventide advances through each of its seven movements, this comforting presence holds true. With the cast spending most of their time arranged in couples, relationships take center stage. Yet there is still a variety of experience ranging from youthful exuberance to mature discernment. And on a complete side note, the Paul Taylor Dance Company has the best bows – speed combined with awareness and utmost professionalism.

Program C closed with Taylor’s 1975 dissertation on continuous movement, Esplanade. Each dancer had a vibrant spring in their gait, fueled by the pivot turns, ball changes,
Paul Taylor Dance Company in Esplanade
Photo: Paul B. Goode
grapevines and contretemps that permeate the choreography. Esplanade harnesses a sense of innocent wonder and often looks like children playing: circle games, chase, tag and the famed leap frog sequence. The second movement provides contrast by inching into a darker space with images of rigidity and isolation. But this only lasts for a short time. Jumping, running, sliding, rolling and spinning return in the finale, with a complete celebration of abandon. There is just one curious presence in the dance, that of the ninth cast member who only appears briefly during the second chapter. And after the women of the company spent three dances wearing footless stark white tights, it was a pleasant change to see them in bright and airy pastel dresses.     

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