Monday, November 24, 2008

Paul Taylor

The Paul Taylor Dance Company was in St. Louis last weekend. According to the promoter’s website:
St. Louis scores a Super-Bowl-size touchdown by legendary dancemaker Paul Taylor—the world premiere of his newest work! The 78-year-old choreographer is making a rare foray out of New York to come to our city himself to direct this epochal event. The program will also feature Esplanade, Taylor’s exuberant J.S. Bach classic from 1975, and other masterworks from the astounding career that has led Time magazine to hail Taylor as "the reigning master of modern dance."
Well, that sounded exciting. Of course, I had tickets for Saturday night, not Friday night, so I didn't see the actual premiere. But I was there for the premiere weekend.


Paul Taylor made his debut in the 1950's with Merce Cunningham’s company, but almost immediately became a lead dancer for Martha Graham’s company. Soon, though, he set out on his own, forming his own company and choreographing works which have shaped American Dance.
While Graham's style focused on the intricate movements of the lower body, Taylor's work is distinguished by lively gestures of the upper torso that are fluid and multidimensional.
His style has been called buoyant, sometimes flowing, and witty. He is known for using “everyday gestures” rather than dance moves.

The program both Friday and Saturday night began with Esplanade, a work he choreographed in 1975 which is performed to the Bach concertos in E Major and D Minor. It is a lively piece that is exhausting to watch, involving very natural movements such as running and skipping and jumping performed in natural patterns that made me think of children frolicing in a back yard. The signature moment from the piece comes when most of the cast lies down in a row, on their stomachs, up on their elbows, while the remaining cast member jumps over them in a hopscotch-type manner.

The second work performed was Scudorama, a piece Taylor choreographed in 1963 using music by Clarence Jackson. The epigram for the work is from Dante: "What souls are these who run through this black haze?" And he to me: "these are the nearly soulless whose lives concluded neither blame nor praise." An earlier work than Esplanade, and a much darker work, it still involved natural movement including people jumping over other people. Taylor received a grant to recreate this work this year and what an excellent use of funds that was. Called a seminal work that explores the essence of our humanity,
Scudorama finds that some people lack purpose and will, that their blasted souls can entertain no beneficence. The dance has not been performed in more than 30 years but retains its power to engage audiences and enable them to see our world through Mr. Taylor’s compelling and unique vision.
So we had a lighthearted piece in Esplanade and a dark, perhaps even satirical piece, in Scudorama. It turned out the they were the perfect introduction to the new work, Beloved Renegade. Using the beautiful Poulenc Gloria, the piece is an interpretation of, or perhaps an homage to, Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. It was the most populated of the works, I counted 15 dancers on stage.

It opened in almost classical form with I am the poet of the body and I am the poet of the soul, lighthearted in a poetic way. But as the piece moves on it becomes darker. The principal male dancer (Walt Whitman? Paul Taylor?)at first observes the other dancers as they frolic, and as one couple dances lovingly (young love?) and then another couple in which the man collapses and appears to be dying. Then a female dancer in almost classical ballerina style shows up to lead the male dancer through his own difficult times - we assumed she was supposed to be death. But maybe she was the poet's muse. At the end the dancer appears to die while death/the muse poses above him. It seemed a thoughtful piece for the 78 year old Taylor. I am not a dancer so I can't expound on Beloved Renegade from a technical point of view, but I can say that I enjoyed it very much and would like to see it again.

Here's a taste (I think this was from when he was a Kennedy Center honoree):