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BWW Reviews: Paul Taylor Dance Company, March 5, 2013

It's always a better place when the Paul Taylor Dance Company comes to New York-a bona fide sign of excellence in the dance world. Not that the program was perfect; I had some reservations about two of the pieces, but overall I couldn't ask for a better place to spend a cold March evening.

The program opened with Taylor's Junction, a work created in 1961 to excerpts from Bach's cello suites, containing some of Bach's most recognizable music, along with its taxing technical demands. Like so much of Bach's compositions, it is lyrical and invigorating, yet, at the same time complex, forcing your intellect to reflect upon the music being heard. And while the suites are very accessible they can also seem remote, as if they are involved in a dialogue and don't want any intrusion. So how would dance fit into this distant environment?

Taylor has approached the work in an almost comical manner that never descends into whimsy. If you listened to the music at home you'd imagine the dancers wearing black and gray, looking austere and moving rigidly. Think again. Taylor costumes his dancers in different palettes: pink, yellow, orange and blue, enlightening us to the fact that Bach is multi-faceted and alive to different interpretations. Remember George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and Doris Humphrey and their approaches to Bach. Perhaps Taylor thinks that pink and orange represent some rosy aspect of the Bach music that we never knew existed. It is borne out in the dance without a sign of severity or sternness. The dancers twist, turn, stretch, crawl and are turned upside down. Would Bach, a devout Lutheran, been amused or entertained? Maybe not, but then he's not around, so I'm not going to worry.

My favorite work, 3 Epitaphs, from 1956, is bizarre and to me, frightening. Six dancers, dressed in gray and sporting mirrors on their heads and hands, perform to early New Orleans jazz that was played at weddings and funerals in the southern United States. The dance is supposed to be funny. But this was choreographed in 1956, and when we think of what was going on: the Hungarian revolution, the denouncement of Stalin, the Suez crisis, not to mention the debut of the Huntley Brinkley report, there is, to me anyway, more than meets the eye. Taylor does not lay it out for us. We just laugh at the dancers and have a good time, but I have a feeling that this is not exactly a fun party.

Like many in the audience, I was eagerly awaiting the premiere of the new Taylor work, Perpetual Dawn, set to the Dresden concerti of Johann David Heinichen, a composer most of us don't know. A contemporary of Bach, he was employed by the Dresden court during the 1720-1730. He sometimes sounds like Vivaldi and at other times like Telemann. The pieces are sunny, they flow forward with no distinctive sound, so it's perfect for dance.

The dance was preceded by a quote in the program by Emily Dickinson: "No seasons were new to us--, it was not night nor noon, For sunrise stopped upon the place and fastened it in dawn." So with Emily Dickinson, Johann David Heinichen and Paul Taylor in on this together, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. The curtain rose on a sepia toned backdrop by Santo Loquasto, which, to those who have ever been to Dresden, resembled the bridge that connects the old and new cities. Then the dancers appeared in country clothes, and it soon became apparent that we were not in old Europe. The dancers offered what seemed to be American variations on European music: they skipped, they ran, they paired off, they looked for partners. Why? They seemed to be in a void, neither here nor there. I admired the skill, the dexterity, the fervor these dancers displayed. But it's a puzzle to figure out what this was all about, or why it was done. So I'll say that it was pleasant and leave my final say after I have seen further performances.

The last piece, Offenbach Overtures, set to four Offenbach overtures, was not as funny as many people thought it to be. It has been referred to as Taylor's Gaîté Parisienne, but there is one difference. Parisienne has heart and even some soul. It's amusing, but there is a deep poignancy in the various pas de deuxs that Leonide Massine choreographed. Here we get silliness, and while I like silliness as much as the next person, it can go on too long. And I was definitely waiting for it to end so I could think of Massine's ballet. Why doesn't someone revive that? I know it's been tried and always fails, but maybe...

There is a lot more Taylor to come. If this was a mixed bag, future programs will be offering better and more varied works. I look forward to seeing them. But almost everyone I know wants to see more Taylor. It becomes an addiction, but one of the best sort.

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From This Author - Barnett Serchuk