BWW Review: PAUL TAYLOR DANCE COMPANY at The Kennedy Center
Paul Taylor is a trailblazer of modern dance. As one of the most important living American artists, sending his company to perform at The Kennedy Center in the nation's capital is fitting-his choreography is dance Americana. Taylor's company offered two alternating programs. Program B, performed on Thursday night and Saturday afternoon, showed the strengths of his choreography's captivating lines, precise musicality, and overall wit.
Taylor began his career as a protégé of Martha Graham before becoming a prominent choreographer in his own right. At the age of 86, he has created over 140 works. Taylor's influence on modern dance is unparalleled, and many contemporary choreographers list him as an inspiration. In 2014, Paul Taylor created "Paul Taylor American Modern Dance". In that venture, Taylor curates a mixture of his own work, masterpieces of the 20th century such as Martha Graham's Diversion of Angels, and compelling works by contemporary choreographers such as Lila York. The broader dance community saw this as a way to transition Taylor's company into an independent identity that did not completely revolve around its founder. However, The Kennedy Center was not treated to this vision as it appears that Paul Taylor American Modern Dance can only be seen in short season at Lincoln Center and does not tour.
The Kennedy Center program opens with Arden Court, a piece set to music by William Boyce that is pure joy to behold. Arden Court imagines a dance Eden where its inhabitants are free to explore romantic and platonic relationships. It is a brilliant beginning to the program as it instantly sets a commanding tone for the rest of the evening and draws the audience closer with its exuberance. The essence of the work is the music's relationship to the dancer and is one of the best examples of Taylor's signature style.
Instead of focusing on simplicity, Taylor uses his choreography to explore specific ideas in both Beloved Renegade and Promethean Fire. The life of Walt Whitman inspires Beloved Renegade. Focusing on Whitman, the titular renegade, the audience follows his experiences: watching children play, nursing the wounded, and eventually embracing his own mortality. Given that Taylor choreographed Beloved Renegade in 2008, when he was 78, it is easy to assume that Taylor is also choreographing about himself. Christian imagery abounds and this is reinforced by the accompaniment of Francis Poulenc. The result is heavy-handed and at times the pacing drags. Promethean Fire is more successful. Premiered in 2002, it explores the hope that is found after catastrophic events. Its movements are filled with tension and intention. In fact, one of the most dramatic moments in the piece is when two dancers slowly look away from each other. It is an invigorating and emotional work.
The overall strength of the program reinforced Taylor's place in the dance canon. His works are simultaneously simple and complex. They succeed when they do not get weighed down by overarching concepts but focus instead on the movement and the music.
Photo Credit: Paul B. Goode