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Paul Taylor Dance Company 2022

A rare opportunity to watch this world-famous modern dance troupe in an intimate space.

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Devon Louis and Maria Ambrose in a scene from Paul Taylor’s “Aureole” (Photo credit: Steven Pisano)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

Seeing the Paul Taylor Dance Company in the intimate Joyce Theater is to fall in love with this troupe again.  Somehow they seem more accessible than in the huge David H. Koch Theater or the New York City Center.

Celebrating the Diamond Anniversary of Taylor’s 1962 “Aureole,” this season’s repertory features three programs, each ending with that iconic work which marked the emergence of Taylor onto the world dance scene.

“Aureole” is superbly crafted.  Its Handel score provided Taylor with both happily bubbly and beautiful adagio music to which he responded using movements he had been developing in his earlier works (three of which were on Program A).

Using only five dancers, Taylor created a little community of extremely agile people who played and loved.  Kristin Draucker and Jada Pearman loped about with a buoyant, flirtatious Austin Kelly who nearly stole the ballet with his joie de vivre and beautiful smile.  Lee Duveneck, tall and imposing, took on Taylor’s original role with Maria Ambrose as his partner in a lovely, slow motion duet.  The work’s centerpiece was a long, twisty solo which Taylor tailored for his own body and which Duveneck danced with quiet intensity. All five dancers acquitted themselves well, not only meeting the technical and musical challenges of the work but communicating joy and a touch of wonder.

It’s hard to realize that “Aureole” caused a sensation when it was first performed, opening a rift between Taylor and the avant-garde modern dance world he led.  He was considered a “traitor” to the rest of the minimalists of which Taylor was a standard bearer as evidenced in two of his early works on this program.

Lisa Borres and Devon Louis in a scene from Paul Taylor’s “Fibers” (Photo credit: Ron Thiele)

“Fibers” from 1961 was one of the oldest works on the program.  It was a choreographically spare work to an anguished twelve-tone score by Arnold Schoenberg, with extravagant costumes and set by the late, once extremely famous, Rouben Ter-Arutunian.  A tall tent-like net structure, decorated with colorful, stem-like lines provided a resting place for one of the four performers all of whom wore Ter-Arutunian’s revealing, but colorful, costumes: mesh helmets and masks with decorative geometric leg straps for the two men and pale masks with white unitards, subtly marked with curvy lines for the two women.  Jennifer Tipton, a Taylor stalwart, provided the spare, moody lighting.

“Fibers” wasn’t as finely danced as it should have been, but all of Taylor’s points were clear.

The movement palette was spare yet clearly prescient of the vocabulary which marked his mature works: angular arms, loping runs with swinging arms, odd lifts and stomping jumps.

The dancers sometimes coupled up showing little or no emotion, but mostly spread out doing disconnected solos which added up to a dark view of humanity.

Kristin Draucker in in a scene from “Shell,” part of Paul Taylor’s “Images and Reflections” (Photo credit: Ron Thiele)

The oldest work, from 1958, was the similarly spare “Images and Reflections” to pointillistic music by Morton Feldmen.  The three costumes were by the now world-famous Robert Rauschenberg.  (Taylor, like Merce Cunningham, associated with an incredible array of up and coming artists, composers and lighting designers.) Each solo was named after the costume the soloist wore: ‘White and Sulphur,’ a black unitard with long fringe angel wings for John Harnage; ‘Shell,’ a delicately decorated white outfit for Kristin Draucker; and a shiny shirt and pants, ‘Blue and Copper’ for Devon Louis.

Ingeniously illuminated by Tony Award winning lighting designer, Tharon Musser, each dancer was initially found in a spotlight standing still.

Eran Bugge, Madelyn Ho, Alex Clayton and John Harnage in a scene from Paul Taylor’s “Profiles” (Photo credit: Ron Thiele)

“Profiles” (1979) was the fourth Taylor work on the program.  As the title implied, the highly stylized movements were performed mostly with the four dancers looking like either refugees from Nijinsky’s “Afternoon of a Faun” or figures on the walls of an Egyptian tomb.

(Taylor often challenged himself with “gimmicks” like these movements in profile.  In another work he used a set with arches that changed the perception of the choreography depending on where you sat.  And, most famously, his “Esplanade” was constructed of everyday, non-dance movements like walking, running, skipping and, most notably, falling.)

In “Profiles,” the four dancers in Gene Moore’s form-hugging costumes – Eran Bugge, Alex Clayton, Madelyn Ho and Harnage- skittered about their bent arms held high, their knees bent.  Lifts were equally angular showing Taylor’s wit and ability to suggest relationships with just a man lifting a woman.  Jan Radzynski’s spare score fit Taylor’s picture of modern dancers spinning out ancient-looking silhouettes.  The bright, colorful lighting was by Mark Litvin.

Shawn Lesniak and the Paul Taylor Dance Company in scene from Michelle Manzanales” “Hope Is the Thing with Feathers” (photo credit: Ron Thiele)

The new work on the program, a world premiere, was “Hope Is the Thing with Feathers” by Michelle Manzanales, choreographed to John Lennon & Paul McCartney, Bob Marley, Harry Woods and several others.  Using ten of the Taylor dancers, Manzanales produced a work that was charming if a tad repetitious.  Santo Loquasto’s pale costumes had an elegantly informal look.

The dancers trooped on in a long line performing unison steps, lunges, leans and twists until movements moved sequentially down the line, mostly soft falls to the stage.  In between these unison sections there were jaunty solos and quick duets that segued into group dances.  The pop song soundtrack underlined the work’s informal feel.  Manzanales certainly put the dancers through their paces.  There’s nothing more appealing to an audience than a line of performers dancing their hearts out in unison!

Her work shows promise but also is clearly the work of a novice.  What the ballet had to do with the Emily Dickinson poem it came from wasn’t clear.

Paul Taylor Dance Company (through June 19, 2022)

Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-242-0800 or visit http://www.Joyce.org

Running time for Program A: one hour and 45 minutes including one intermission

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Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (438 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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