Performing Arts: Dance
  PAUL TAYLOR AMERICAN MODERN DANCE: HALF LIFE
March 29, 2018
Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance’s programmatic ride on March 23rd felt initially disjointed and cliquey, opening with a commission by Doug Varone before ending with two Taylor pieces, originally premiered twenty years apart. Further consideration, however, reveals the program as more essayist in nature – a theme and elaborations.

Varone’s Half Life is a physical marathon, supported by the relentless dissonant pulsations from Julia Wolfe. Above the dancers hangs a rig of fluorescent bulbs, designed by James Ingalls, manipulated to vary in color and brightness, shining wherever dancers congregate, before lowering on them, Indiana Jones style.

In true Varone form, bodies fluently ride motion, though in choreographing for Taylor’s dancers specifically, more formed movement makes its way into the mix, an evenhanded sculpting of space and body that makes for an unpredictable texture with no consistent performed adherence to the laws of physics.

Spacing organizes streams of actions into identifiable activity. To begin, two bodies continually cycle in, colliding on center after bee lining from opposite ends, somewhere between a mudwrestling match and puppy play, invariably contributing to the increasing scattering of human debris. Elsewhere, the ensemble swarms as tightly as possible around the center without touching. Over time, centers multiply and relocate, as though the floor were laced with quicksand pits.

The mixing of emoting and doing, as well as surprise moments of formation and unison demonstrate a concentrated artificiality in manipulating ostensibly organic base material. Similar is its musical relationship, matching only in atmosphere, though every so often syncing up briefly for a satisfyingly subtle instrumental flourish here and there. Amid such shifting rules, we are never sure what sort of world these people inhabit, and, within that, how much their choices are allowed to seem as though they are truly theirs.

Taylor’s Eventide shifted gears from fast-paced high stakes to a gentle meditation over a collection of very beige heterosexual couples. From casting comes a sort of transparency that allows a surprisingly wide array of relationship dynamics and gender commentary to project onto the pairings.

Women are, to varied degrees, reluctant, curious, and wandering from their men, apparent as they impact Taylor’s symmetrical arrangements of folksy movements. One man forcibly hoists his woman offstage, while one woman comforts her distressed man by taking on traditionally male roles in partnering him. While in Varone’s work, couples create composite shapes, instantly redefined by replacement, Taylor takes his time, assigning one theme per unit.

Spatially, Eventide shares Half Life’s sense of hotspots on stage for intensified gravitation. While Varone typically uses these spots to bring clusters into order, Taylor has them disrupt his crystalline formations.

On its own, Cloven Kingdom’s wildly costumed juggling of finessed and primal movement largely reads as a satire on hierarchies of dance forms, but, when on the same program as the Varone, that juggling bears more weight. In Varone’s similar tactic of alternating sections of extreme contact with extreme avoidance, we wonder how long we can see unaffected dichotomies of contact before we begin to decide it is romance, violence, and so on. We can then see the mixture of Taylor’s juxtapositions of elegance and earthiness as a question of human nature – are we more human when we reject our animalism or when we submit to it?
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews




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