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Paul Taylor Review

Paul Taylor: Speaking in Code

Monday, March 30, 2009 at 11:21pm

Paul Taylor dance company presented three newer works for their Kennedy Center program including “De Suenos,” “De Suenos Que Se Repiten,” and “Beloved Renegade,” his tribute to Walt Whitman. The program showed a breadth of Taylor’s strengths from his quirky dark side to his most lyrically poignant voice.

“De Suenos” and “De Suenos Que Se Repiten,” both have a dreamlike/nightmarish quality to them and the second work builds on the quirkiness of the first. The characters in the dance vary from a shaman (complete with antlers), a Madonna like figure, a man in drag, a man in a black tuxedo with his face painted white (who carries a pink skull in the first piece and a sword in the second, several women costumed in white dresses and red flowers in the hair and several dancers in plain black or white. The sound score is eclectic and often has voices that sound like prayer or as if someone is speaking in tongues. The sets are made of shimmering black ropes hanging from the ceiling all the way down to the floor creating a forest of sorts on the stage.

Arranged with the randomness of a jumbled dream, the dancers transform to different characters from lovers to penitents to nightmarish characters. You feel as if you are at a party where most people are speaking a different language and occasionally shift back to English to ask you if you want something to drink or eat. You are right in the middle of it all but you can’t quite grasp the key to the code they are speaking to each other. A few powerful characters stand out: the Madonna is serene in her movements, she creates the illusion of gliding across stage even when she is walking slowly on her toes. Her every gesture is slow and deliberate and filled with the formality of a goddess. The Shaman like character with the antlers bounds through the space with abandon. He has a tender pas-de-deux with the Madonna where he is the grounded mover while she is the ethereal one floating around him. The first section ends with the face of the man in the black suit floating eerily as his body disappears in the darkness.

“De Suenos Que Se Repiten,” starts back with this stark image of the floating face, and continues to progress towards more of nightmare. Dancers are a mishmash of humans and strange creatures and periodically penitents cross the stage crawling on their knees, sometimes following the Madonna, sometime the man in the black suit and sometimes following an invisible leader. There is a ritual sacrifice of the Shaman, the man in drag and others and the piece ends as abruptly as if the alarm work you up before you found resolution. But I kept missing the key, I wanted to know what was happening and it felt like the language was switched just as soon as I figured out the basic rules. Ultimately, I lost interest by the end of the second piece, there was not enough to connect the jumbled pieces together.

“Beloved Renegade,” was a striking contrast with a clear and uplifting energy. The piece was one long farewell, with people coming and leaving throughout the piece. Taylor deftly creates friezes of Whitman’s greatest poems, you see young men collapsing from wounds (inflicted from wars?), couples saying goodbye, and dancers tumbling down and rolling through the stage to stand up, only to be pulled down again. Laura Halzack, who danced the Madonna’s role comes through with an almost spiritual glow on her face. She gives new meaning to the word adagio, sustaining and breathing life into every single gesture and the curve of her neck never bows. It is as if Whitman’s indomitable spirit has taken hold of her, and she, like him, is riding out the storms of wars, and the endless horrors we inflict on each other. Taylor’s craftsmanship is razor sharp and the piece was an uplifting end to the program.

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