BWW Reviews: PAUL TAYLOR DANCE COMPANY
As I was going to the Paul Taylor performance I saw a woman wearing a mink coat and my brain retreated to my early teenage years when all those Blackglama ads were in vogue. You remember them: "What becomes a legend most?" Well, Rudolf Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn, and Martha Graham, were among the many icons featured. I am sure Paul Taylor would be incuded if the advertsement were still running.
And that's how I want to review the performance on April 27 at 2pm. But I'm going to take it a notch higher. I'm going to review it as what might suit a legend, what doesn't become a legend, and what makes a legend.
The first under my three categories is Byzantium, inspired by a line from the Yeats poem: ''Of what is past, passing or to come.'' I do have to tell you that I read the poem the night before, but am not sure how the text corresponds to the dance, if at all. I also have to admit that I never found Yeats much to my liking. I do like a host of others, it's just that Yeats is not on that list.
Mr. Taylor's own fictional city of Byzantium has less to do with a city than the abstracted rite, to my mind, of passage from adolescence to maturity through a series of altering mental landscapes. I have seen the work numerous times, and I always venture a guess about its meaning: Is it too easy to understand or else beyond the realm of dance comprehension? It's not easily categorized, and that's the trickiest part, because we all want to know just what it is that we are watching. The word Byzantium can almost be taken as a point of departure for our imagination, much like Balanchine's Serenade. What we do or think after that is our own business.
Or is it? The quality of dancing can't be questioned, but its meaning had a number of audience members leafing through their programs for clues. You can take it literally or metaphorically, which is perhaps what Taylor wanted. Although beautifully costumed with some of the richest colors since Leon Bakst designed for the stage, I came away from Byzantium as perplexed as ever. Perhaps there is less than meets my eye, or it could be the other way around. Even after countless viewings it eludes me, and judging by the audience response, they felt the same way.
American Dreamer doesn't become a legend, or anything else for that matter. Set to music by Stephen Foster and recorded by Thomas Hampson, the work strives-and strives-to be funny and cheerful: a night in the bar dancing to these old goodies. The problem was that it failed to make me laugh, just sigh and wonder why this was choreographed. Did Taylor have to choreograph another work for this season? It was not needed, and I felt as if Taylor was valiantly trying to entertain us, all to no avail. One thing I've learned over the years: if there's no reason to do it, don't. The audience may want novelty, but as a choreographer one needs-and wants-to keep a reputation intact.
Arden Court came last, and here is why we can see exactly what has made the Taylor reputation so palpable and enduring for the past sixty years. There is no story, no pushing for effects, no symbolism. Just the sheer joy of movement. The leaps, the bounds, the joy in seemingly reaching for the heavens is ignited by watching these beautiful dancers. You could probably apply every action verb to the performance. They are all true!
I have always thought of Arden Court as a dance for men, even if female dancers do appear. The Taylor men have always been tall, strong, exploding with sex appeal and drive. They always are the leaders, and the women follow, or are left as mere props. This has been debated many times and, I'm sure, will be at the height of many discussions later on. If I were to write a Ph.D. dissertation I might make this my subject. Look at it another way: Balanchine worshipped his female dancers; men were consorts, princes, even if they later could be utilized for other supporting or leading parts. If Taylor doesn't put his men that high on the dance pole, they are damned close.
I close on an ambiguous note. Taylor announced that he would be reviving works of other modern dance masters and commissioning new works. Mr. Taylor is now in his eighties, and he wants to leave a legacy not only of his own works, but a company where all choreography deemed to be worthy of our attention will be housed and performed. Now that's what I call a smart man, not to mention one of great sensitivity and insight. I'm looking forward to what will come about.