“Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal),” “Ports of Call,”
David Koch Theater, Lincoln Center
New York, NY
March 8, 2017
by Martha Sherman
copyright © 2017 by Martha Sherman
It’s not easy to report disappointment in the new work of Paul Taylor, a true giant of dance in the 20th century. His dancers are as disciplined and gorgeous as ever; the now-familiar vocabulary of his movement style is deeply linked to a broad array of work that built on his early creativity; and the older works still compel, especially when viewed in light of their original contexts. But the world premiere of “Ports of Call,” was weak, a reminder that his more recent work has not held up to our recollections or expectations.
Laura Halzack in "Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal.)" Photo © Paul B. Goode.
“Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal)” is still an odd tale with a hard-to-tease out storyline that shifts between rehearsal set upstage, often hidden by a scrim and lighting (by another giant, Jennifer Tipton), and a melodrama, played in narrow bands of the stage, both upstage and down, shifting between choral scenes on the one hand, and kidnapping, mayhem and murder on the other.
In the grouped scenes upstage, dancers in head scarves moved in angular patterns around a step ladder that offered hard straight lines in their center. Focusing on the utilitarian, the women were lifted like can openers, their torqued legs angled up, as their partners tucked their bodies crisply under an arm; all of their lines were as straight as the ladders. The story characters showed their emotions (or their business, in the case of the Private Eye and henchmen) in the their movements. The girl, Laura Halzack, used her baby (a bundle in red) as a prop, but wrapped herself around the legs of her paramour, Robert Kleinendorst, enveloping him in her pleading torso. All the characters had their physical patterns – the rigid Rehearsal Mistress, Christina Lynch Markham, unbending throughout; the crook's mistress, Eran Bugge, like Narcissus, moving to and from the mirror of her vanity, the stolen baby ignored by her side. Taylor built in their personalities, but used the tight group lines (including an energized straight up jumping jacks scene) to maintain the geometries of this angled work. Even the cast bows stayed in their stylized characters, extending the story beyond the curtain.
The centerpiece of the evening was the “Ports of Call” premiere. Although also well-danced and with high production values (including quickly changing scenery, and live music by Jacques Ibert,) this piece was a multi-scene pastiche of clichéd images. In “Africa,” natives fought in a jungle, the women all hanging on their men, and the dead leader’s lady tormenting herself in a native circle around his body. The Hawaiian scene was danced in grass skirts and leis, with swiveling hula hips, and in the Alaska scene, shivering dancers in skimpy costumes and furry mittens, huddled around an igloo, while a pair of polar bears danced a comic wrestling match, tumbling over each others’ backs.
Finally, a scene in “Midwest U.S.A,” was a set of forced marriages followed by a mild, unimpressive American West-inflected line dance. A shotgun couple with a very pregnant and demanding wife came first, followed by a man dragging in a woman with a noose around her neck, violently kicking but forced to get hitched; this gratuitous misogyny seem particularly jarring and out of step in 2017. It was not a work that served either the dancers or Taylor’s legacy well.
The evening’s highlight was “Company B,” which was also the only piece of the evening not danced to live music (usually a very powerful addition to any live dance.) In this case, though, the use of the 1940’s classics, in their scratchy original recordings, was essential. The audience was pulled back into a different time in the rhythms of the 1940s.
Although the tunes and lyrics bounced with lightness (“Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh!,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle B”) and romanticism (“There Will Never Be Another You), each dance also wove in images of soldiers going to war, fighting, dying. In several scenes, they were viewed in silhouette upstage against a lit backdrop (lighting again by Tipton,) and the audience was pulled between sweetness and young energy downstage, and the underlying, relentless realities of war lurking close behind. Just as we relaxed into the solo of the stunning “Bugle Boy” — danced by Kleinendorst — he crumpled to the ground in the final notes, another war casualty. Taylor’s choreography caught all the energy, but never stopped reminding us of the risks, and the consequences of that time.
Top Photo: Cast in "Ports of Call." Photo ©Paul B. Goode.
Bottom Photo: Parisa Khobkeh with Sean Mahoney and Robert Kleinendorst in “Company B.” Photo© Paul B. Goode.
copyright © 2017 by Martha Sherman