“Airs," “Black Tuesday,” “Syzygy”
Paul Taylor American Modern Dance
Paul Taylor Dance Company
David H. Koch Theater
New York, New York
March 7, 2016
By Carol Pardo
Copyright © 2017 by Carol Pardo
Five bucks doesn't buy much these days but that was the price of a seat for the opening night of the Paul Taylor Dance Company's 2017 New York season, the program: three vintage works by Taylor himself, but, surprisingly given the occasion, none of them at his game-changing pinnacle. Unlike "Aureole", also set to orchestral works by Handel, "Airs" is not a revolutionary work, but a re-examination of the choreographer's frequent theme of the community and the odd-person out. Similarly, "Black Tuesday" can't help but live in the shadow of "Company B", the first (and probably greatest) of Taylor's explorations of of 20th century American history, decade by decade, set to contemporaneous American popular songs. "Syzygy", thirty years old this year, is a work where the glass may be half empty or half full.
"Airs" begins with a long overture, here with it's tonal and structural harmonies revealed with uncommon clarity, like processing through a rock crystal cathedral, unutterably beautiful. By the time the music stopped and the curtain rose, "Airs", usually sublimely playful, had become simply sublime. The dancers must have heard something similar for they gave a performance of unusual quiet, restraint and elegance. Parisa Khobdeh and Robert Kleinendorst, in their competitive, flirtatious duet, all sliding hope and bent knees, didn't sell the humor of it, but focused on the tenderness underlying it all, their eyes hardly leaving each other. Similarly, Michael Trusnovec and Eran Bugge were so engrossed in each other that one hardly realized that he was turning while she stood on this thighs, as though that were the most natural thing in the world. In the final moments of the piece, Laura Halzack, the odd-person out, raised her arms, not in supplication, or triumph, but gently, at ease, at peace, an outsider no longer. And, at that moment, all was right in her -- in our -- world.
Watching "Black Tuesday", set to songs from the Great Depression, is the dance equivalent of looking at highlights from a photo album of the day, by turns funny, witty, trenchant, but not quite cumulatively powerful enough to be a distillation of its time. In the opening 'Underneath the Arches', Michael Novak, looking very spiffy, his boater at just the right angle, was a guy down on his luck, but recently, as if waiting for payday before he could go home to the wife and kids. His dancing was smooth, with a witty little buck and wing thrown in. But there was also a sense that behind the facade was real sadness, that he would never be able to go home again, perhaps that there was no longer a home to go to. Quiet, insidious, powerful, this was a performance that made one need, henceforth, to focus on Novak, every time he's on stage. Jamie 'Rae Walker is only the second hunter I've seen in 'I Went Hunting and the Big Bad Wolf Was Dead'. Pale and wide-eyed, she was the Baby Face Nelson of this "Black Tuesday", not so much confrontational as calm and confident that her blazing guns would deliver the results she wanted. The dance ended with Michael Trusnovec in "Brother Can You Spare a Dime", perhaps stunned and confused at being abandoned, but with his dignity intact.
To quote Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, syzygy is "the nearly straight-line configuration of three celestial bodies (as the sun, moon, and earth during a solar or lunar eclipse) in a gravitational system". Taylor's dance of the same name is an exhibition of panicked limbs and hysterical, flailing joints, monotonous in tone and without a moment of rest or a second to breathe--for the dancers or the audience. Even Madelyn Ho's amazingly secure balances on one leg were subsumed by the hubub. "Syzygy" needs an armature, some structure, rather than just pounding it out for half an hour. It's as though Taylor, having undone a ball of yarn, just left it on the floor, not even considering whether to turn it into a scarf, never mind a sweater. This glass was half empty.
Photographs by Paul B. Goode, top to bottom: Eran Bugge and Michael Trusnovec in "Airs"; Robert Kleinendorst, Michael Trusnovec, Michael Apuzzo and Sean Mahoney in "Syzygy"