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Paul Taylor Dance Company

'Klezmerbluegrass,' 'Dante Variations,' 'Promethean Fire'

Promethean pilot light

by Dean Speer

November 19, 2004 -- Meany Hall, Seattle, Washington

Paul Taylor used to be one of my choreographic heroes. His stature was diminished slightly in my eyes by the showing of three of his latest dances. By his own admission in his quite wonderful autobiography, Private Domain, Taylor purports to work very hard at not repeating himself. I’ve long agreed that he had been successful at this until now.

The 2002 "Promethean Fire" is derivative of himself. It was the (strange) experience of watching a paint-by-numbers dance of his own movement vocabulary. Let’s see, we’ll put in four strong lunges with a reach of the right arm with the hand jutting out each time from the shoulder, we’ll run with the arms dipping low and reaching up and out, palms up, we’ll do quick parallel sissonnes. In his other dances that I’ve seen, he created a fresh movement vocabulary (motifs if you will) for each one. "Roses" does not look like "Cloven Kingdom," which does not look like "Company B," etc.

However, "Promethean Fire" looks like ALL of his dances thrown together in a salade russe. On the plus side, it is organized well and is set to a score that I’ve always wanted to see someone make a dance to – the Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor plus two Preludes. I just wish he had made something truly new. And I have to ask to myself, why does using ones own vocabulary work for some (like Martha Graham) and not for Taylor, at least in this case?” Is he trying to codify his style?

"Dante Variations" I found to be the most unique and interesting on the bill. It was really like something out of a sketch or painting depicting tormented souls. It begins and ends with the dancers in a clump and as they peel off, it looks as if the whole group was given a jolt charge of electricity. (Oh, that nasty devil!)  Its music by Ligeti (one of the flavors-of-the-month composers; see Phillip Glass, among others) and is made slightly more tolerable here by its adaption to barrel organ. If you say “Ligeti” four times in a row real fast several times, you get how his music sounds to my ear. Hearing one of the San Francisco Ballet’s accompanists at a pre-performance talk a few months ago, who played for one of Christopher Wheeldon’s many creations to this composer, didn’t help my impression. Very “notey.” [La-DAH-dah-DAH-dah-dah, la-DAH-dah-DAH-dah-dah in a quick rhythm.]

"Klezmerbluegrass" is to traditional Jewish music, arranged by Margot Leverett and was a good “opener.” Bouncy, light and with just a hint of melancholy, I felt like the commissioning organization got their money’s worth.

As always it was a pleasure seeing Taylor’s beautiful and strong dancers. It is interesting to observe that while the pre-performance lecturer said to look at the varying body types in the Company – and I was nodding my head, as I had known this to be true – the Company has undergone a big change. While the women’s hair styles were different, I have to say that the look of his company has become much more uniform. No extreme short to tall and tolerance for builds. The men particularly looked like they came out of the same cookie-cutter, skin color aside. Also in the past, Taylor tended to choose dancers with Graham backgrounds. This has shifted to mainly ballet backgrounds and this has most definitely altered the look and feel of this 50 year-old major American modern dance company.

Edited by Jeff.

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