Klezmers Fizzled, Dancers Soared
"Eventide," "Arden Court"
Neither klezmer music nor bluegrass suffers from a lack of zeal, but Paul Taylor’s newest work “Klezmerbluegrass,” certainly does. Commissioned by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture to celebrate 350 years of Jewish life in America, “Klezmerbluegrass” merely skims off its folksy score, arranged by Margot Leverett, rather than being driven by it. In its Washington premiere Thursday, with the exception of Julie Tice and Michael Trusnovec’s fantastic 'Leather Britches' and Annmaria Mazzini’s solo, even the dancers looked bored. (Or maybe they were just upset by their costumes, designed by Santo Loquasto. The men fared worst, clad in hot pink fishnet unitards.)
Mr. Taylor references Jewish culture through reels, circles and lines of linked arms, and a brief hora. but the life that makes Jewish culture so vibrant is missing. The playful flirtations of coupled moments looked superficial and comic moments were overdone, to the point of stopping just shy of making fun of the music. Particularly Richard Chen See who played a ringmaster-like character in 'Russian Sher and Growling Old Man,' looked like a kitschy cartoon of himself, his head bouncing and arms swinging as he gambled through the bouncy dance.
The theme of the individual within community surfaced throughout, most aptly in the slow Klezmer Waltz, done by the cast’s men. One by one each man released himself from the line of grapevine-stepping men to dance a solo. Though neither the movement for the solos, nor the slight steps of the group were terribly memorable, the juxtaposition of the two, particularly since the line’s tempo remained much slower than the soloists’, drew a full picture. As one person danced his story, the world he came from—and returned to—trudged on.
There was no trudging in Ms. Tice and Mr. Trusnovec’s duet. Each moved with such precision and buoyancy through Mr. Taylor’s tell-tale version of ensembles and leaps that they looked like spirited hummingbirds, barely landing before taking to the air again. Ms. Mazzini, who danced her solo just after their duet, as the woman left out of love, employed the sense of weight missing from the work’s earlier sections. Whereas Silvia Nevjinsky leading the 'Lonesome Moonlight Waltz' and Volich held back from swinging her body, Ms. Mazzini luxuriated through her choreography. Her loneliness bore down upon her shoulders; her torso curving through Mr. Taylor’s swooping, extended lines.
In aggregate, “Klezmerbluegrass’s” slow pace and disinterested tone made it nothing more than a mediocre opener, especially after watching the rest of the program, “Eventide” from 1997 and the classic “Arden Court” from 1981.
To Ralph Vaughan William’s “Suite for Viola” and “Orchestra and Hymn-Tune Prelude, No. 1,” “Eventide’s” five couples pleasurably rocked me into a warm, dreamy, pre-naptime state. Both the score and choreography strove for simplicity and succeeded. The relationship between central couple Patrick Corbin and Heather Berest turns on a simple placement of a hand on a shoulder. Ms. Berest’s body seems taught, almost rigid, during their first duet, until Mr. Corbin walks behind her and barely touches her shoulder. Only then does she exhale. (She remained a bit stiff throughout much of the work otherwise.) The two reappear later, Mr. Corbin kneeling downstage, head bowed, and now it is Ms. Berest’s turn to call him from his angst, tenderly touching him on the shoulder before the two begin to dance again. Mr. Chen See and Lisa Viola also danced extremely well, flying through a happy solo with swishing feet, faster and faster, building to a fancy frenzy.
Closer “Arden Court” marks Mr. Taylor’s comedic sense at its best. Sometimes his humor in choreography feels pasted on, but in “Arden Court” the comedy flows from the movement. Repeatedly, dancers vie for another’s attention, one dancer moving through an earnest, slow solo, while another scurries about unnoticed, crawling under his or her legs. Anyone who has ever felt overlooked can sympathize and laugh.
The program repeated through Saturday with cast changes.
Photo on front page: Paul Taylor Dance Company’s Julie Tice and James Samson in Runes. Photo: Paul Goode
2, No. 48