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The modern dance artists are stewards in the quest to bring art back to New York’s stages.


The audience chatter is loud, even if there are more empty seats at the New York City Center than there might have been in March 2020. When the house lights dim, the ushers silently stalking the aisles with signs to 'mask up' make their final promenades. It's clear that night three of the City Center Dance Festival will not be a carefree return to our yesteryears, but a step into what comes next in the arts.

There is no better steward for this unknown future than The Paul Taylor Dance Company.

March 24-31, PTDC will perform three diverse programs that showcase the late choreographer and modern dancer Paul Taylor's most classic creations alongside works by the next generation of dance makers, including the company's resident choreographer Lauren Lovette. PTDC are among the New York companies marking their return to the stage at the inaugural City Center Dance Festival. Each program features live music by the Orchestra of St. Luke's.

Night three of the Festival includes Taylor's Roses, which premiered on the City Center stage in 1985. Three decades later, performed amid unimaginable hardship, Roses is still as soft and sensual as the flower from which it takes its name. As the dancers pair off, a series of gravity-defying lifts and effortless acrobatics set to Richard Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll" and Heinrich Bachman's "Adagio for Clarinet and Strings" creates the warmth and connection of an idyllic love. Madelyn Ho, who balances effortlessly on the shoulders of nearly every male dancer, is a standout. So are the soloists, Jada Pearman and Lee Duveneck, who, in all white, sway like newlyweds having a first dance. Stillness becomes sultry when the company, nestled like lovebirds at the back of the stage, captures how easily two can become one.

Review: THE PAUL TAYLOR DANCE COMPANY USHERS IN NEW ERA IN THE ARTS at New York City Center Roses, with its couples swathed in black and gray against a cool blue background illuminated by lighting so warm it could be sunlight, is not the humorous and sardonic work many may associate with Taylor. Languorous and whimsical, Roses asks the audience to find momentum in the romance, not the dance. Taylor's Brandenburgs, which closes the show, is its exact opposite.

When the Orchestra of St. Lukes strikes the first note of Johann Sebastian Bach's famed "Brandenburg, Concerto No. 6" audiences lean forward. The male ensemble, in striking hunter and khaki green unitards, stride onto the stage with the virility of a street gang and precision of a platoon. While previous pieces saw the male soloists tip-toeing into flashy leaps, here they spring like rabbits. John Harnage is masterful in an adagio that not only calms the driving energy, but does so without any of the expected Olympic-like gymnastics. His quiet grace, captured in shadow and shape, is a deep breath before the fun begins again.

While Taylor's works are quintessentially modern -- his dancers create pictures as angular as a Picasso -- his ethos can tend more toward contemporary ballet. Lovette's Pentimento, which serves as a transition between the languid Roses and the propulsive Brandenburgs, is the most modern work included in the night's programming. That's not to say that Lovette, a former New York City Ballet principal dancer, does not appreciate a deconstructed turn sequence to make Balanchine proud. Instead, Pentimento challenges the audiences to embrace the manic spiral. Review: THE PAUL TAYLOR DANCE COMPANY USHERS IN NEW ERA IN THE ARTS at New York City Center

Pentimento begins in darkness. A tangle of limbs and legs like a paper cutout in a shadow box. Then all hell breaks loose. The work is a battle between tension and relief. It's primal, yet precise and patterned. Just the turn of a head, the jut of an arm or the flick of a foot crackles with anxiety. The dancers pass this energy between them like it's tangible. In fact, having something to hold on to may have been the thought behind a red scarf the dancers literally toss to one another like a football. Visually, a streak of red in the blue-gray color scheme can be nice, but without the scarf, the score and the steps do the work just fine.

For Roses and Brandenburgs, PTDC has maintained William Ivey Long and Santo Loquasto's original costuming. While a belt could be removed or added to create better lines, the way the fabric flows under Jennifer Tipton's softened lights is always lovely. Lovette's costumes, an array of menswear from Barbara Erin Delo works well enough. In Pentimento, costumes and lights are secondary to Alberto Ginastera's "Variaciones Concertantes OP. 23," which under music director David Lamarche, manages to contain all the emotion the dancers bring to the steps.

PTDC's programs feature two intermissions, only one of which may be necessary. Yet each time the lights come up, what impatience begins to build is that of anticipation. As the uproarious applause peters out, audiences become desperate to know how PTDC will fill the stage with the art that has been so sorely missed, and yet somehow feels brand new.

The Paul Taylor Dance Company will perform in the Center City Dance Festival through March 31st. Programs vary and tickets start at $35. Vaccination and ID required for attendance.

The City Center Dance Festival runs through April 10th and features performances from Ballet Hispánico (Apr 1 - 3), The Dance Theatre of Harlem (Apr 5 & 8 - 10) and The Martha Graham Dance Company (Apr 6, 7, 9 & 10). Tickets start at $35. Each program features live music by the Orchestra of St. Luke's. Vaccination and ID required for attendance.

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