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Paul Taylor Dance Company

by Suzannah Friscia
March 18, 2014
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.
140 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023
212.875.5456

Featured Dance Company:

Paul Taylor Dance Company
Paul Taylor Dance Company (office)
552 Broadway
New York, NY 10012
212 431 5562
www.ptdc.org

Watching Paul Taylor's work is often like being transported through American history, one decade, idea or dance trend at a time. Not that the movement is necessarily following a linear progression. But elements of American social dance, and of traditionally American character, are woven through Taylor's diverse repertoire, making his work easily recognizable to those who have experienced it before.

These elements could certainly be seen in Paul Taylor Dance Company's Friday night performance at the David H. Koch Theater, part of their 60th anniversary season. The opening work, A Field of Grass, begins with a single dancer sitting cross-legged in the center of the stage, smoking a joint. He rises, moving with freedom and abandon as the drug takes effect, and the audience is instantly and unmistakably transported to the 1960s. As he spins in a circle, arms outstretched, the effect is reminiscent of someone dancing in his bedroom. This character, clad in a white tank top and danced by Robert Kleinendorst in Friday's performance, acts as a sort of protagonist or reference point throughout the work. Together, the seven dancers, dressed in bell-bottoms and sunglasses, seem to move through a foggy, hazy atmosphere, often raising their arms and upper bodies to the sky, often twirling. Sometimes they act as a unit, embodying an overall spirit, as when they move back and forth in a sort of train, each person holding onto the person in front of him or her. Kleinendorst heads the line, arms flailing and swaying as though he has lost control but is enjoying it. At other times, the dancers portray more specific characters. In one memorable moment, Aileen Roehl steps out from the group to perform a faster-paced, almost wild solo, rapidly changing directions and levels, her blond hair flying loose.

The music, a series of songs by Harry Nilsson, sounds as though it came straight out of a Nora Ephron movie (many of the songs did, of course), and imbues the piece with a spirit that is so classically American, it's hard not to feel a little nostalgic. The work's duets in particular capture moments of pure happiness, and have an innocence about them that is rare and delightful to behold. In "The Puppy Song," pairs of dancers strut and stroll, hand in hand, almost cartoon-like in their enthusiasm and their joy in simple pleasures. In "I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City," Michelle Fleet holds out her hand to her partner, then playfully removes it and runs, to be chased in a circle. These moments seem to portray friendship and camaraderie more than anything sexual or romantic, and they are both refreshing and lighthearted.

Similarly to this classic Taylor work, Marathon Cadenzas, which had its world premiere on Friday, captures a specific moment in American history: the dance marathons of the 1920s and 1930s, where the endurance of contestants was tested as they danced non-stop, competing to see who would be the last one standing to receive the prize money. Participants often pushed themselves past the breaking point in events that, as it turned out, were often scams. Marathon Cadenzas portrays one of these contests, run by a sleazy, greasy-haired ringmaster of sorts. Each of the dancers plays a specific character, and their acting skills create a colorful group of contestants, dressed in period costumes designed by Santo Loquasto.

At the beginning of the contest, when the energy level is still high, the dance is reminiscent of American square dancing or other social dances. To Raymond Scott's upbeat, almost carnival-like music, the dancers form two lines and change partners in a series of patterns. In one moment, the whole group stands in a horizontal line facing the audience, and they move forward by bending to the ground on one knee and sliding up again, in unison. Later, the dancing loses structure and is reduced to a frantic and determined power-walk as the group circles the space again and again. They begin to fall down from exhaustion, with those who are still standing trampling over those on the ground. The leader mercilessly singles individuals out to perform one at a time. In one memorable solo, a girl dances flirtatiously (or attempts to), eyeing the leader. She swivels her hips in an excessive number of circles and bobs her head from side to side in an over-exaggerated way that becomes humorous, even though she seems to be taking it very seriously. Again, it calls to mind the type of move a teenager might do while dancing in a friend's basement, and the over-the-top moves a girl might do when trying to impress someone.

By infusing his work with pedestrian movement, and familiar steps, Taylor illustrates truly American traditions and ways of life. And his dancers, who clearly have high skill and training, are able to believably portray everyday characters that have movement quirks and agendas of their own. There are also beautifully virtuosic moments, as in the evening's final work, Arden Court, where men leap like gazelles across the stage, and create intricate patterns with their bodies. But it is sometimes in the more seemingly simple movements, and in the subtle moments of acting, that the dancers' virtuosity shines through most.
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