Paul Taylor is America’s greatest living choreographer; and his ensemble is singularly devoted to his vision. However, at Saturday’s night appearance at The Egg, a bit of Taylor’s luster was tarnished, mainly by his newest dance “American Dreamer.”
Its premiere coincided with the company’s 60th anniversary. The suite of dances revealed that Taylor, rightly so, was feeling nostalgic during its creation. Set in a dance studio, perhaps Taylor was reminiscing about his youth, when he desired only to dance and to fall in love with another dancer/dreamer in the process.
Yet this work, in which young men pursue unwilling young women, could have been choreographed by any amateur. It did not declare the depth and complexities of human relationship that Taylor is wont to explore. Nor did it dig into the light Stephen Foster songs, revealing a hidden dimension. Rather, he literally translated the songs into dance. Even the marvelous dancers didn’t seem committed.
As a result, “American Dreamer” only skimmed the surface of unfulfilled sexual male fantasy in the most sentimental way.
Its saving grace, thankfully, was its humor. “American Dreamer” was sweetly funny.
“Gossamer Gallants” was wildly amusing, however. This dance, in which female preying mantis lured male flies, was pure Taylor delight. Set to Bedrich Smetana’s comic music from “The Bartered Bride,” this lively romp propelled 11 Taylor dancers in a campy cat-and-mouse chase.
At first, the viral flies were intrigued by the hip-swaying mantises, and they flirted by showing how high and fast they could soar. But the flies reversed their course when they realized that the preying mantis’ intent, after mating, was predatory. “Gossamer Gallants” was also beautifully conceived by designer Santo Loquasto. The backdrop, a swirling, aerial view of a castle, glowed and provided a medieval feel for this slapstick polka of love and death.
As it is an anniversary season, Taylor also brought back “Byzantium” from 1984. Inspired by W.B. Yeats line “Of what is past, passing or to come” from his “Sailing to Byzantium,” this was a strange work that juxtaposed the tortured downtrodden with the clueless privileged.
“Byzantium” began with a twisted solo, in which the dancer staggered, fell and dragged himself across the length of the stage. He was followed by a frantic woman who jumped and turned, desperate to free herself of some plague. More appeared and each jerked and swung like puppets in some evil folly.
The curtain lifted to a quartet in colorful robes and gold caps. They moved seamlessly, forming and reforming their symmetrical lines and circles. Their scene, in which they held hands while swallowing morsels of calming goodness, was orderly and serene.
A tall, golden figured entered and the quartet gave way. They all watched as the exploited bowed down to the figure’s bidding. It was a disturbing portrayal of a society that remains, unfortunately, relevant today.
Whether or not you saw this 60th anniversary showcase, you can catch Paul Taylor Dance Company again in several different programs at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, Mass., from July 24 to 26. It is well worth the effort.