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Paul Taylor's American Modern Dance: Images, The Weight of Smoke, Beloved Renegade

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Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance
551 Grand Street
New York, NY, 10002

Phone: 212.431.5562
Fax: 212.966.5673

(Taylor American Modern Dance Website)

Paul Taylor, Artistic Director
Music Director and Conductor, Donald York
Featuring the Paul Taylor Dance Company

Music Performed Live by:
Orchestra of St. Luke’s

Paul Taylor, President, Board of Directors
C.F. Stone III, Chairman, Board of Directors
Bettie de Jong, Rehearsal Director
John Tomlinson, Executive Director
Jennifer Tipton / James F. Ingalls, Principal Lighting Designers
Santo Loquasto, Principal Set & Costume Designer
Lisa Labrado, Director of Public Relations

Michael Trusnovec, Robert Kleinendorst, James Samson,
Michelle Fleet, Parisa Khobdeh, Sean Mahoney,
Eran Bugge, Francisco Graciano, Laura Halzack,
Jamie Rae Walker, Michael Apuzzo, Michael Novak,
Heather McGinley, George Smallwood,
Christina Lynch Markham, Madelyn Ho

In Performances at the David H. Koch Theater
At Lincoln Center

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 17, 2016

(See Other Taylor Company Reviews)

Paul Taylor grew up near Washington, DC and studied dance at Juilliard. He first presented his own company and original choreography in 1954. For seven years, he was a soloist with the Martha Graham Dance Company and continued to create dances for his own company. In 1959 he was a Guest Artist and danced with the New York City Ballet, and, since 1975, he has concentrated on his choreography. Mr. Taylor has won dozens of awards, such as the National Medal of Arts from President Clinton in 1993, a 1992 Emmy Award for Speaking in Tongues, and a 1992 Kennedy Center Honor. He was elected to Knighthood by the French Government and in 2000 was awarded Legion d’Honneur for contributions to French culture. (Program Notes). He has received numerous honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees from prestigious colleges, including Skidmore, where I first met him, many years ago. The Paul Taylor Dance Company, now under the umbrella of Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance, is a sought after troupe and tours extensively around the globe.

Images (1977): Music by Claude Debussy (Selections from Images - Book I, Children's Corner Suite, and Pour le Piano), Choreography by Paul Taylor, Costumes by Gene Moore, Lighting by Mark Litvin, Margaret Kampmeier, piano, Performed by Michael Trusnovec, Robert Kleinendorst, Heather McGinley, Eran Bugge, Francisco Graciano, Laura Halzack, Jamie Rae Walker, Madelyn Ho.

Images opens with a black backdrop and glistening lighting by Mark Litvin. A radiant warmth emanates from the eight dancers, as Debussy’s combined, impressionistic score evokes memories of Nijinsky’s ballet, L'Après-Midi d'un Faune, titled for another Debussy score. In the Nijinsky ballet, which caused a major furor in Paris and less of a furor in London, Nijinsky, as the faun in his own ballet, shockingly wears sandals and walks in the erotic style of a Greek frieze, complimentary to the Leon Bakst backdrop. The arm and hand movements, in stiffly bent fashion, and a scandalous theme, relating to the scarf of the lead nymph, created a huge amount of publicity for Serge Diaghilev and his Ballet Russes.

In Mr. Taylor's Images, the mood is upbeat, there is no scarf, and there is no lingering nymph. The female dancers wear patchwork skirts, and the male dancers wear black briefs. Yet, the choreography is created with a similar Greek frieze motif, with angular torsos and bent arms, hands, feet, and legs. The off-center posture of the body and arranged groupings of dancers appear aesthetically tied to the Nijinsky oeuvre. Contrasts abound in music and mood, with three differentiated scores, beautifully played on piano by Margaret Kampmeier.

The Weight of Smoke (World Premiere): Original Music by Justin Levine and Matt Stine, Excerpts from George Frederic Handel, Choreography by Doug Elkins in collaboration with the dancers, Assisted by Carolyn Cryer, Costume Design by Karen Young, Lighting Design by James F. Ingalls, Performed by the Company.

Doug Elkins’ The Weight of Smoke, a world premiere this Taylor season, brings a new choreographer front and center, but this year with the Taylor dancers on stage, rather than the creator’s own company. I certainly prefer Mr. Taylor’s own dance designs to this campy, light dance, but it did have some amusing elements. Wearing street clothes, sixteen Taylor dancers seem to be in a downtown-type nightclub, coupled up, but then the couples shift, as the “night” wears on, with women kissing women, men kissing men, and men kissing women, and round about again, or simultaneously, or with dance, or without. Excerpts from Handel’s baroque music are spotlighted, then intermingle with a contemporary score by Justin Levine and Matt Stine. Michael Trusnovec is featured in gender-bending motion, and Michael Novak, as well, makes a strong impression, as maybe the club dancer that downed extra drinks. Couples twist through each other’s arms, and it’s all generally ebullient.

Beloved Renegade (2008): Music by Francis Poulenc (Gloria), Choreography by Paul Taylor, Costumes by Santo Loquasto, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, Conductor: Donald York, Devon Guthrie, soprano, St. George’s Choral Society, Performed by Michael Trusnovec, Robert Kleinendorst, James Samson, Heather McGinley, Laura Halzack, and the Company.

Once again this Taylor season, we are treated to live music from Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Donald York conducting. But, here, tonight, the treat was vastly expanded with St. George’s Choral Society and Devon Guthrie, soprano, participating from Mr. Taylor’s 2008 Beloved Renegade. The Poulenc Gloria was so rapturous, I did not wish it to end, ever. Michael Trusnovec (in his third of three dances tonight), Robert Kleinendorst, James Samson, Heather McGinley, and Laura Halzack were all featured, along with ten additional Company dancers.

Mr. Taylor’s intrinsic theme is Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, with a sense of mortality and the meaning of war. Taylor quotes Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”…”I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world”. The live orchestral and choral music is riveting for its drama and deathlike doom. There are military motifs, autobiographical innuendos, and deep spirituality. Mr. Trusnovec leads the Company through “I am the poet of the body, and I am the poet of the soul”, while Mr. Kleinendorst, Ms. McGinley, Francisco Graciano, Jamie Rae Walker, and Madelyn Ho were spellbinding in “Come children, come my boys and girls”. This intense, introspective work has interwoven, emotional elements. The Choral Society and Ms. Guthrie, along with Mr. York and Orchestra of St. Luke’s, deserve endless kudos, for creating enveloping, tonal warmth.

Kudos to Paul Taylor.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at