LAST EDITED ON 22-Nov-99 AT 10:44 AM (GMT)
Paul Taylor, one of the greatest modern dance choreographers this century who has been a major force in the dance world since the 1960s, is still active as a choreographer at his present age of 69.
Taylor's choreography is probably more accessible to a ballet audience than works by other prominent American modern dance choreographers. For a start, the Baroque music which Taylor is so fond of using for his works is easier on the ear than the astringent sound scores favoured by Merce Cunningham, and those works of Trisha Brown which are danced in silence. And Taylor's supreme musicality as a choreographer puts to shame some ballet choreographers who only treat music as incidental instead of as a main source of inspiration. It is no wonder that great ballet stars like Rudolf Nureyev chose to dance Taylor's choreography as a diversification from their ballet repertory. Taylor's 1962 masterpiece "Aureole" was in the repertory of the English National Ballet in the 1980s, which was when I first experienced his choreography.
Last weekend (19, 20 November) it was a real treat to see the distinguished Paul Taylor Dance Company again in two different programmes at the Macau Cultural Centre. Macau was the first stop of the company's Asia-Pacific tour which also includes Auckland and Jakarta. The six works comprising both programmes were well chosen, ranging from the 1975 masterpiece "Esplanade", which Taylor choreographed after he had stopped dancing himself, to a new work premiered in 1998.
"Esplanade", set to two Bach violin concertos, is a sunny work creating a large variety of moods from a limited vocabulary which is based on naturalistic movements such as walking and running. The work celebrates an ideal community spirit, with the nine dancers enshrining communal
civility and good manners. There is an infectious 'joie de vivre' in this work. It was sheer joy
to see the marvellous soloist Lisa Viola jumping one by one over the ensemble lying on the ground. But typical of Taylor's dualism, there are dark undertones even in this idealised vision of humanity. In an unforgettable passage, the dancers are crawling dejectedly on the floor like ants.
I however found this performance on Friday slightly tentative and subdued compared to the superb cast that I saw during the company's landmark London Sadler's Wells season in 1989, due perhaps to the fact that this cast was making a debut in this work. I remember far more excitement in a passage where a male dancer swings his partner round and round in the air repeatedly, and in another virtuosic episode towards the end when each girl hurls herself into her partner's arms.
"Arden Court" (1981) which was also set to Baroque music - of William Boyce - was better performed. I first saw this work perfomed in the late 1980s by the London Contemporary Dance Theatre. It was dominated by the six male dancers whose variety of space-devouring jumps in two criss-crossing diagonals in the beginning and the end of the work were simply exhilarating to behold, and so life-affirming as well. The plastic richness of their upper bodies was also admirable. The first duet was marvellously performed by Kristi Egtvedt and Orion Duckstein. Memorable was the daring spontaneity with which she climbed onto his back, as well as jumping onto his thigh later. There was also a "competitive" duet for two male dancers.
There was a witty moment which saw each girl in three trios turned upside down by her two male consorts; another humourous moment was in a line-up of male dancers when a lone dancer was turned upside down in a V shape.
I am not sure what to make of "Syzygy" (1987). There was an endless bustle in this allegro work, which probably symbolised general anxiety before an apocalypse. Lisa Viola dazzled in a quicksilver solo with plenty of directional changes.
Last weekend's newest work was "The Word" (1998) which had a large cast of 12 dancers clad in black and white school uniforms designed by Santo Loquasto. It was a study in group conformist behaviour. Human pyramids were a recurrent motif. Frequently one girl was seen atop three male
dancers, like a divine deity. The ensemble dancers had a lot of belligerent movements, sometimes contrasted by their cupping their hands as if in a prayer. There was an aggressive female soloist costumed like a greenish lizard, sharply danced again by Lisa Viola.
The two works of 1997 were a good match - one mournful, the other a popular crowd-pleaser. The latter was "Piazzolla Caldera" based on the tango form. It was again Santo Loquasto who designed the stylish black costumes, as well as the red set with a lot of overhead lights. There was a solo brilliantly performed by Francie Huber, and a duet impressively danced by Lisa Viola and Patrick Corbin. Unexpectedly there was also a hilarious duet for two drunken male dancers - Andy LeBeau and Robert Kleinendorst both superb. At the end of the duet, they formed a quartet with another mixed couple.
I prefer the other 1997 work "Eventide" which has an autumnal backdrop and beautiful cream-coloured costumes designed by Santo Loquasto for five couples. There is one main couple, with the four other couples possibly reflecting the various stages of their relationship. Set to Vaughan Williams' music, it is a poetically allusive work, enhanced by Jennifer Tipton's atmospherically evocative lighting.
The second ballad duet with some soaring lifts was marvellously performed by Kristi Egtvedt and Andrew Asnes. There was a more upbeat duet for Heather Berest and Andy LeBeau. And the elegiac duet for the main couple had an autumnal languor, sublimely danced by Francie Huber and Patrick Corbin. I was reminded of the central pas de deux in Ashton's masterpiece "Enigma Variations" for the Royal Ballet. The ending was potently simple in means. The main couple was surrounded in a circle by the other four couples who were then separated by their sexes before regrouping into two circles.
After this Asia-Pacific tour, the Paul Taylor Dance Company will have a one-week season at the Opera Garnier in Paris next January, as well as a season at the Sadler's Wells Theatre in London in November 2000.