Just when I’m losing faith with dance audiences’ ability to rally, they show up in droves. Surely, they were happy they did as they witnessed a good one — the Paul Taylor Dance Company.
On Thursday night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the company proved once again why it is one of the best contemporary dance ensembles in the world. Thanks of course, to one of the most accomplished living choreographers around — Paul Taylor.
The evening opened up with his eye-popper, “Mercuric Tidings,” to excerpts from Franz Schubert’s Symphonies No. 1 and 2. The dance could almost be considered a formula ballet — bright start, sweet, tender pas de deux for its center and a bursting finish. But it was so much more. For one thing, the energy expended in this jam-packed dance was huge. And except for the adagio nugget in the center, it sported non-stop, superfast action.
With the precise Michael Trusnovec and Amy Young at its center, the dance was all arms and legs swirling and swishing every which way. The eye tried to grab onto each new move and then another took over like a wave, the dancers echoing a straight up jump, or a tilt or a simple whisk of the arm skyward.
The lacy intricacies forced the dancers to conserve their stepping, often scuttling and skipping lightly. Yet they did not clip the breadth of the dance, which was bold and large and demonstrated Taylor’s knack for deploying and scattering dancers with endless variety.
Nearly every dance Taylor ever created (all 130) are masterful. But “Changes,” to music sung by The Mamas and The Papas, doesn’t rise to his usual genius. Typically, Taylor would create layered dances that spoke of the era — its highs and lows — often uncovering the darker sides of a romanticized age.
Yet in “Changes,” from 2008, Taylor doesn’t go deep. The piece conveyed the 1960s in costumes (bells, headbands and halters) and the freewheeling, head swinging, hip thrusting dances of the age. And that’s it. It had its ebullient moments. Yet everyone has come to expect more from Taylor.
There was also an odd section, “Dancing Bear,” that didn’t fit. The smoky pot parties, replete with a line of lights, shifted to a farm (noted by the gorgeous backdrop by Santo Loquasto) with Jeffrey Smith and Francisco Graciano. There are references to fathers and sons and then, the scene switched back to the free-spirited hippies who aimlessly stagger through the night. Strange.
The evening closed with “Beloved Renegade,” one of Taylor’s newest works, which was rich in spirituality and longing as one man searches for peace and validity in his fading life. The piece, which is set to Francis Poulenc’s “Gloria” and is inspired by lines from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” centered again on Trusnovec who portrays an ailing artist who reviews his life. As he stood at the edge of the stage, a scrim rose to reveal all the people who have passed through his years. In many beautiful passages, Trusnovec’s poet remembered the joys, losses and loves of his life. And he did it with pathos.
Finally, his community bent their knees and head and hugged him farewell before he is led away. Moving, yes. Foreshadowing, perhaps. As Taylor advances toward 80, the world wishes him health and many more Taylor made dances to come.