Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Few Dubious Moments: The Paul Taylor Dance Company Opens at NY City Center

By Mary Sheeran
            Paul Taylor’s Esplanade is a delightful, exuberant work set to music by Johann Sebastian Bach. At Tuesday’s gala opening of the Paul Taylor Company’s season at City Center, dancers ran, skipped, jumped, and slid as if engaging in summer games. In the midst of these joys, some depth would emerge – a touch on a shoulder, the grasping of a stomach, even crawling on the floor in a way that reminded me of the sad dinosaurs in Walt Disney’s “Fantasia”. A tender section begins and ends with men carrying women in their arms, one strong and very happy dancer (Michelle Fleet) flies over bodies in a breathtaking game of leapfrog, and a dancer slides vigorously into a backbend. And then at the end, the marvelous Fleet stayed behind on stage to give a bit of a bow before undoubtedly going back to play. We were enchanted.
            And perhaps a little more dubious about the night’s premiere, Dubious Memories. Central to this piece is some sort of violent love triangle with a Man in Green, a Man in Blue, and a Woman in Red (of course), with some (and this gives it too much importance) Rashomon-type memories surrounding an event that made me wince a few times: once for the somewhat trite two-dimensional story and once for an apparent rape followed by one more wince as the same couple returned to the stage as a loving pair.
            What WAS of interest was James Samson’s choir master, who begins the piece with a series of impressive lunges, as if pointing the way, and then, joined by his chorus, reacts and comments to the action with quirky moves and formations, making something interesting for the commonplace electronic score that accompanied them.
            Because the dancers in the story wore bright colors and the chorus was garbed in gray, the ending with the colorful dancers entering the choir could have been interesting (up to now, they had moved in separate circles) and I was thinking that they would become part of the choir (angels from heaven?—somewhat borne out by the mystical music and lighting when the choir was on stage by themselves) or that they were still oblivious to it. This final section was titled, Threnody, as in mournful wailing for the dead; could the choir have comprised all possibilities of these memories? As you can see, the piece was both intriguing and banal, which was distressing. I almost wished that the cell phone belonging to the woman in front of me would go off as it had during Esplanade, just to provide some discernible distraction (it went “Boing! Boing!”)
            The other wince came as my friend Amy turned to me during the next work, Oh, You Kid! and asked, “Is that supposed to be the Ku Klux Klan?” She wasn’t kidding. Dancers were wearing white hoods that were unmistakably pointing to the Klan, and I had no clue. Oh, You Kid! is set to the ragtime period and takes place at a seaside. Dancers wear the contemporary bathing costumes  for a typical afternoon at a ragtime seascape and generally doing high spirited stuff. Why the KKK pranced in there, I couldn’t fathom. All I could think of was the 1915 film, “Birth of a Nation” because another piece seemed like something out of a Harold Lloyd film. The dancing was enjoyable in this slight piece, especially that of Parisa Khobdeh. The music, live for Tuesday only, was energetically performed by the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, directed by Rick Benjamin.
Esplanade. Music by Johann Sebastian Bach (Violin Concerto in E Major and Double Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor – Largo and Allegro), Costumes by John Rawlings, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, first performed in 1975. Three Dubious Memories. Music by Peter Elyakim Taussig (Five Enigmas, movements 1, 3, 4, 5), Costumes by Santo Loquasto, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, Premiere: Feb. 22, 2011. Oh, You Kid!, Costumes by Santo Loquasto, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, first performed in 1999.
Paul Taylor Dance Company. Artistic Director: Paul Taylor.  The company is performing at New York City Center through March 6. For information, visit
Mary Sheeran is the author of Quest of the Sleeping Princess, a novel set during a gala performance at the New York City Ballet ( and Who Have the Power, a historical novel set during the Comstock Lode era about a pianist discovering that her mother was a healing woman of the Washo tribe (

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