bonbons: Paul Taylor Dance Company.
Mae G. Banner
Taylor Dance Company
Egg, May 7
Paul Taylor could make a dance out of the phone book and it
would be wonderful—funny, sad, satiric, elegiac—whatever he
has in mind, it comes out right.
Taylor Company thrilled a nearly full house last Saturday
at the Egg with a program of three dances, each totally distinct
from the others, all drawn from the last 20 years of Taylor’s
50-year choreographic enterprise. He is a master architect.
Each construction stands strong. Each speaks its own movement
language, fleshed out with Taylor’s unerring choice of music,
Jennifer Tipton’s inspired lighting, and savvy costumes by
Gene Moore or Santo Loquasto.
Offering (1986) to works of J.S. Bach is a dance of fierce
emotion bound by a deliberately restricted way of moving.
The dancers, in androgynous flesh-colored unitards or tights
girdled with wide vertical strips of leather, resemble the
carved wooden figures of a German clock in a town square.
They move weightedly, on a two-dimensional plane. Bent elbows,
flat feet, wrists crossed on their chests as if in mourning,
they shift their weight from foot to foot like wooden pendulums,
marking the beat.
Even when Richard Chen See does jumping jacks and jagged-leg
leaps, or when Silvia Nevjinsky turns a smooth solo, angularity
rules. A dancer might somersault over and over in the arms
of four others, but her curving shape will be carved and unyielding.
Sometimes, as in Julie Tice’s solo, we can see the choreographic
rule as she moves along a line of four dancers, her forearms
chopping, her hands touching each in turn. We are satisfied,
because we know what she’ll do next. And, then, Taylor wows
us with an antic contrast as Tice begins to leap and dive
among the men until they lift her in a tight sitting position
and carry her off.
The dance builds to ever more complex group structures as
Tipton lights the foreground dancers in the color of Jerusalem
stone, while the background is a darker sand. Dancers sink
to the ground, rise to their knees, stand and gather like
the pipes on a church organ. At the climax, they are bathed
So tightly structured, yet so overflowing with passion, Musical
Offering is an elegiac, architectonic work.
Taylor’s mind skips from holy to howling in Funny Papers
(1994) a comic strip dance that’s black and white in color,
set to nutty novelty songs like “I Like Bananas Because They’ve
Got No Bones.” Actually, Taylor got a little help from his
dancers in making Funny Papers. He watched their after-hours
goofing around and fiddled with the bits until they formed
You’d think this silly suite was a throwaway, but it is strictly
constructed, as sharp as the creases on the dancers’ black
and white jumpsuits, as clean as the flat-colored Sunday funnies
lighting. The backdrops switch from red to purple to Kelly
green, according to each section.
The dancers are having a ball. Their moves are athletic and
broadly evocative of the songs: Robert Kleinendorst does a
hornpipe, with bicep “muskels” as “Popeye, the Sailor Man,”
while Tice and Lisa Viola are sooo shy in “Polka Dot Bikini.”
The crowning bit is a double rendition of “I Am Woman,” first
by Nevjinsky preening before a cast of men; then, reprised
by Orion Duckstein with a cast of women. Sung in falsetto
by an off-key female impersonator, this would knock the socks
off a cabaret audience in Provincetown.
The whipped cream on the éclaire was Offenbach Overtures,
(1995) a too-delightful spoof of the exquisite refinements
of the French. Set in the Napoleonic era, it mingles can-can
beauties in scarlet dresses and black corselets with virile
naval officers in black bicorne hats and their army challengers
in tall red shakos that look like molded mousses. They polka,
they waltz, they make tiny bourees and shaky plies, they do
giddy spins and strutting steps, all with grand passion—so
grand, it is completely foolish.
In a duet reminiscent of The Merry Widow, Duckstein
and the dark-eyed Heather Berest, a masked couple in black,
are so enamored of their own stylishness, they almost float
off the stage. Their linked wrists and exaggerated split-leg
jumps push French delicacy to the limit. Yet, in a later balletic
duet, they are so beautiful, you could weep.
According to Taylor’s rehearsal director and long-time collaborator
Bettie de Jong, Offenbach Overtures cannot be performed
in Europe because the French are insulted. I think the Paris
Opera Ballet should make an equally satiric dance about Americans
and see how we like it. In fact, Paul Taylor has done a few
but they are more scary than funny, so the field is open.