Richardson — Paul Taylor’s place as a great American choreographer remains unchallenged. Saturday night at the Eisemann Center we could see why. The Paul Taylor Dance Company opened the program with Taylor’s comic and nonsensical Diggity, followed by the hauntingly beautiful Beloved Renegade and ended with his sophisticated and subversive Cloven Kingdom.
Our first glimpses of Diggity are of Alex Katz’s dogs—twenty or so, painted on metal and strewn about, some lying flat, some standing, some sleeping. They form an obstacle course for the dancers, who have a field day skipping, leaping and spinning in a joyous romp. It’s silly and giddy: three men leapfrogging like a pack of puppies, a woman in skivvies flying though the ranks like a comet, another woman whirling in an ecstasy of freedom, changing directions and spinning, spinning, spinning.
As is true of most of Taylor’s works, the movement is free and easy: upper torso twisting sideways Egyptian fashion as arms propel the body forward, often at a tilt. The dancers surge and mass and fan out in looping patterns, break away and regroup.
To take on music as powerful as Francis Poulenc’s Gloria requires a profound connection to the music, and that Taylor does in Beloved Renegade. The “renegade” in this case is the poet Walt Whitman. Seven quotations from Leaves of Grass serve as the frame to the dance. As the poet/protagonist, Michael Trusnovec seems to be observing brief episodes of life that include joy, love, art, loss and death. In “I am the poet of the body” he slides between rows of people; in “I sing the body electric,” he lies half-reclining as he watches a young couple (Parisa Khobdeh and Robert Kleinendorst) engage in a tender duet. In “I bend to the dying lad, his eyes open, a half-smile gives he me,” he looks on as dying soldiers stumble and fall. In “—and for the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding death,” pallbearers carry him aloft. (He will die again.)
Every once in a while a figure in white (Laura Halzack) appears, representing a muse, an angel or the Virgin Mary. She guides him through this landscape of joy and sorrow. As he bids farewell to his companions (“I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, if you want me again look for me under your boot-soles”), he slides to the ground. As the angel stands over him, she slowly—slowly—rotates is arabesque, a figure of benevolence.
Taylor switches gears in Cloven Kingdom, a work rich in dark irony. It begins straightforwardly enough in what might be a glamorous ballroom. Women wear long flowing gowns in jewel colors and swirl about in a rush of movement. Men in white tie leap, their long tailcoats fanning out. The baroque music (Arcangelo Corelli) adds to the regal air.
But the tone turns dark and strange as dancers become anthropomorphic figures: women wear headpieces of horns and antlers, and men continue to leap, but now their hands are relaxed and held close to the chest, like rabbits. Or else the men drop their heads and upper bodies far forward even as they leap in some kind of primitive ritual. The dance gets wilder and more chaotic and the music switches back and forth from sedate to tempestuous to primitively percussive, sometimes all sounds blaring forth at once.
There is a kind of mad glee to Cloven Kingdom, a reminder that the primitive and bestial lurk not far away.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.