DanceView Times, New York edition
Gods and Demons
In the Beginning, Piazzolla Caldera
To open their season proper, Paul Taylor's company performed one New York premiere along with tried and true dances from the repertory. The newest work may not last as long as its siblings.
In The Beginning was originally made for The Houston Ballet last year and is Taylor’s gloss on Genesis and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. He’s dealt with the theme before in American Genesis (1973). I haven’t seen that work to compare it; the works that came to mind watching In The Beginning were his less subtle comedies such as The Sorceror’s Sofa (1989). Both are painted in broad brushstrokes; they’re amusing, but simplistic.
Taylor sets the dance to selections from Carl Orff’s bombastic compositions scaled down in arrangements for wind instruments. Carmina Burana’s strength is in its massiveness; this arrangement lays bare the doggerel. As always, Taylor’s musicality is direct. He chooses Reie, a round dance, to begin and sure enough, we get a round dance. The rest of his ideas are as literal. Jehovah (Andy LeBeau) comes into the Garden of Eden wagging his finger at all the inhabitants and we go through several “begats”; the dancers slide out from behind Eve’s (Silvia Nevjinsky) legs to populate the stage. The concept is on the level of biblical cartoons, perhaps as imagined by Max Fleischer: Olive Oyl as Eve and Bluto as Jehovah.
Insistently cheerful and humorous, In The Beginning never rises to the inspired ruminations on religion Taylor gives us in works such as The Word or Fiends Angelical. His most special works are tempered with darkness even in light; the unrelentingly light works threaten to drift away like helium. Even Santo Loquasto couldn’t help this one. His costumes are inspired by Jewish influences; Jehovah wears a robe resembling a prayer shawl and also tefillin, the small boxes containing biblical verses that Orthodox Jews bind to their arms and foreheads when praying. It is not an outfit meant for dancing. Even Loquasto’s scenery at the end, doves that rose to become a rainbow, didn’t quite behave as it was raised and looked more Borscht Belt than Broadway when it shook.
Airs (1978) is a far more solid work, part of the line of dances to English Baroque music where Taylor reimagines classicism in his own image. He references ballet in the stillness and suspension of the dancers’ carriages, as well as in fleeting port de bras en haut. Taylor even sneaks in a near-quote from Serenade as his closing tableau; the cast, some standing, some kneeling, surrounds a central figure much as the corps surrounds the soloist in Serenade who falls. Of course, Airs isn’t ballet, it’s Taylor. You can see that in the weight of the dancing and the way he flirts with symmetry and asymmetry. What it shares with ballet, and the Handel to which it is danced, is a calmness and certainty from its own structure. As in Aureole or Arden Court, we’re looking at Paradise, this time in blue.
As well crafted a work as it is, the performance was slightly flat. The energy on stage picked up in the final work, Piazzolla Caldera (1997). When this premiered, it seemed like a beautifully made dance, but one also cannily gauged to popular tastes and sensations. But as it ages it only gets tighter, and the shock of its blurring of gender roles still hasn’t worn off. Celos starts as a drunken duet for Richard Chen See and LeBeau; Loquasto’s scenery of hanging lamps sways wittily along with them. But there’s an edge to the gymnastics. Nevjinsky and Michael Trusnovec come out for a second duet and both couples, different and same-sex, meld together in a polymorphous quartet that continually threatens to collapse under its own weight. The line between drunken support and drunken groping is still unsettling.
The company performed as though it were also still finding its balance for the season. Sadly, all we got of Trusnovec, the company’s most fascinating demon, was in Piazzolla Caldera. We didn't get to see company's senior dancer, Patrick Corbin on stage, although he was in the audience. Still, Taylor subdued is better than most choreographers unleashed.
Read other reviews of the Paul Taylor City Center season:
Photo: Paul Taylor Dance Company in In the Beginning. Photo credit: Paul B. Goode.