PAUL TAYLOR'S AMERICAN MODERN DANCE-The Word-Rite of Spring-Promethean Fire
March 20, 2015
Compensating for spring’s hesitation is the inauguration of Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance. Sharing Lincoln Center with Limón, Humphrey, and Shen Wei, this notion of an all-encompassing modern dance company has been in the works for some time now – Taylor has simply put his stamp on the phenomenon. Truth is, the up-and-coming generation of contemporary dancers is one of mongrels most malleable. Specialization is obsolete. We are equipped to view a company that can successfully tackle work from both ends of the 20th century as something not just plausible, but necessary.
Tuesday evening’s program bound eclecticism in ties of musical relationships. 1998’s The Word emphasized Taylor’s inimitable ability to visualize sound, yet, within non-negotiable timing, still convey ideology. The company, dressed in the delicacies of Catholic school uniformity, treads pious restraint and sensorial indulgence. Eran Bugge, in a nude unitard, demands knowing thy physical self, spiraling wildly through David Israel’s chromatic clarinet writing. Dancers are hoisted, as through crucified, on backs, upside-down, and in pairs, perverting iconography to overcome self-repression, sculpted in phrases of cyclical, tedious motion. Bugge’s concluding chaînés push the dancers offstage, leading them from behind to carve their paths past the proscenium.
Opening the evening was Shen Wei’s Rite of Spring, a structural examination of Stravinsky. The four-hand piano arrangement leaves the score naked for optimum grappling. Where Taylor embodies instruments with people, Shen assigns pure motif to his bodies. Stravinsky’s complexities required simple melodies for clear manipulations. Movement is equally blocked off into modules of verticality and floor-work, exposed one at a time. Beginning in silence with a pedestrian prelude of locomotors, at the score’s most bombastic, the company, in line, absorbs microscopic detonations. We’re witnessing Stravinsky’s impulses. Minimally moving dancers, spaced as vulnerably as a piano reduction of an orchestral score, teach us how so much can come from so little.
In Promethean Fire, Taylor breathes new life into trite music selections by way of orchestration. Leopold Stokowski’s arrangements of Bach’s organ works magnify the distance between fingers to the space of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. The moves are rhythms – crisp jumps that scintillate when braided through space. Balancing might with docility, formations alternate between grids and heaps – a cradle close to the earth balloons into a far-reaching press overhead. Its coincidental capturing of 9/11 aside, the movement’s purity retains and transcends formidable connotation, mirroring both victim and survivor. Taylor’s movement arrangements encourage analogously re-orchestrated meanings if they are to exist in the present and beyond.
A work that visualizes a commissioned score, a Rite that disregards Stravinsky’s libretto for formalist dialogue, and a repurposing of music no one will touch – these strategies are emblematic of how Taylor’s vision can succeed. How must one work with a contemporary versus an icon? How must new generations be inspired to actively extend their lineage by their own volition? The synergy of the above processes, malleable as the mongrels that will be dancing them, is a good hint.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews