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Review: Paul Taylor Continues To Be a Reigning Force in Modern Dance

Paul Taylor

By Sheila Kogan, Contributing Writer, March 20, 2018

As Paul Taylor has become an elder statesman of modern dance, he’s extended his reputation to provide a platform and an introduction to other dance companies and dancers. On Sunday the Paul Taylor Dance Company presented a program that included The Trisha Brown Dance Company — not just her choreography, but her entire company of six dancers — in Set and Reset. The piece began with black-and-white video images projected onto a geometrically divided screen. The soundtracks of each image overlapped noisily. When the screen raised, dancers appeared, wearing costumes made of fabrics that were imprinted with similar black-and-white images as those on the screen. Seeming to move as randomly as the noisy sounds of voices and clinks and clanks that were composed by Laurie Anderson, I felt disturbed and uncomfortable. But slowly, an underlying, hypnotic rhythm began to take over and the special quality of the Trisha Brown dancers emerged. They danced with a delicious, relaxed ease and I appreciated the strength and artistry that distinct choreography required. The subtle patterns of movement against the repetitive rhythms of the sounds drew me into its spell. By the end, I understood why Trisha Brown’s work is so highly regarded and why Paul Taylor wanted to present her work.

Paul Taylor

Members of Trisha Brown Dance Company in ‘Set and Reset;’ photo: Whitney Browne.

Then Sara Mearns, a prima ballerina of the New York City Ballet, performed Dances of Isadora, as Isadora Duncan. The original choreography of Isadora Duncan was staged by Lori Belilove. At a piano onstage, Cameron Grant played excerpts of the romantic music of Chopin, Brahms and Lizst. Usually considered the first “modern” dancer, Isadora Duncan had astonished audiences of her time with simple movement. Dressed in a flowing, Grecian-style tunic, Mearns as Duncan danced with child-like skips and gestures, following the dictates of the music (and deliberately discarding the artifice and style of classical ballet). Using bits of scarves and flower petals for dramatic effect, it took a dancer with Mearns’s stage presence to provide an essence of what caused Duncan to be the sensation that she was.

Paul Taylor

Sara Mearns in ‘Dances of Isadora;’ photo: Whitney Browne.

The evening’s program ended with Esplanade, one of Paul Taylor’s signature pieces. The audience applauded heartily at the mere sight of the dancers in the familiar opening positions wearing the familiar orange costumes. The work felt as fresh as if it were brand new, proving once again why this is such a beloved staple of the repertoire. Seemingly simple, and yet complex, the walks and runs and jumps and falls and slides continued to amaze, astonish and delight. Each dancer contributed to the whole of the finely-tuned ensemble, but Michelle Fleet added an extra spark, and Parisa Khobdeh threw herself into the slides with such abandon that it was almost frightening. Enhancing the joy of watching dance choreographed to the wonderful music of Bach was the fact that it was played beautifully by the Orchestra of St. Luke’s conducted by Donald York.

Paul Taylor

(l. to r.) Michael Novak, Eran Bugge, Michael Trusnovec, Aileen Roehl, James Samson, and Heather McGinley in ‘Esplande;’ photo: Paul B. Goode.

Overall, the program was a glimpse of a thread of modern dance history, from Isadora Duncan’s simple presentations to Paul Taylor’s use of ordinary walks and jumps to Trisha Brown’s controlled ease of movement. I noted that at the end of the performance the tradition of presenting bouquets of flowers to only the women at the curtain call has changed to include presenting bouquets to the men, as well. Nice touch.

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Paul Taylor American Modern Dance with American Dance Festival presented ICONS at the David Koch Theater at Lincoln Center on Sunday, March 18 at 6pm.

Set and Reset: Choreography by Trisha Brown; original music by Laurie Anderson, Long Time No See; (first performed in 1983); visual presentation and costume design by Robert Rauschenberg; lighting design by Beverly Emmons and Robert Rauschenberg. Performed by the Trisha Brown Dance Company: Cecily Campbell, Marc Crousillat, Kimberly Fulmer, Leah Ives, Jamie Scott and Sam Wentz.

Dances of Isadora: Choreography by Isadora Duncan; artistic direction and staging by Lori Belilove; music by Frederick Chopin, Johannes Brahms and Franz Lizst; (originally performed between 1900-1924); set and costume design by Lori Belilove; lighting design by Rob Brown. Dancer: Sara Mearns;  pianist: Cameron Grant.

Esplanade: Choreography by Paul Taylor; music by Johann Sebastian Bach; (first performed in 1975); costume design by John Rawlings; lighting design by Jennifer Tipton; Orchestra of St. Luke’s, conducted by Donald York; violin soloists: Krista Bennion Feeney and Naoko Tanaka. Dancers:  Robert Kleinendorst (replacing Michael Trusnovec), James Samson, Michelle Fleet, Parisa Khobdeh, Eran Bugge, Laura Halzack, Jamie Rae Walker, Michael Apuzzo, and Heather McGinley.


Cover: Michelle Fleet (in air); (l. to r.) James Samson, Eran Bugge, Michael Novak, Aileen Roehl, Michael Trusnovec, and Heather McGinley in ‘Esplanade;’ photo: Paul B. Goode.


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