Richardson — Paul Taylor’s sardonic side came out in full glory Saturday night at the Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts with the opening work from Paul Taylor Dance Company, Book of Beasts. A modern take on medieval fantasies of mythical creatures, human foibles and sly jokes on modern dance, it was pure comedy from start to finish.
Nine dancers in spear-carriers’ costume prance and tiptoe in neat military formation, interrupted by a figure in a white sack sweeping in with red streamers flying. What follows is a wacky array of characters: a leaping Phoenix (Michael Trusnovec) in gold body suit, long red feathers and talons supplying menace; a furry beast (George Smallwood) rolling and popping up; a prissy Deity (Michael Novak) in power blue dipping and swirling and plié-ing—and so it goes, ending with a wild chase and a takeoff on The Nutcracker. Book of Beasts skirts close to camp, but is simply too clever and disarming to fall into that category.
In a very different vein was Lila York’s poetic Continuum, which premiered here before it will be seen in New York. (The Center has commissioned one Taylor work in 2002; and Taylor premiered another dance at the Eisemann in 2010.)
Thirteen dancers in sand and silver form a stacked tableau, holding aloft Madelyn Ho. That image is repeated several times, as is her darting in and out of the ensembles’ ranks, her red-orange dress flaring as she leaps. The ensemble sweeps and swirls, sometimes in unison, but more often staggered, as though gusts of wind are tossing them about.
The ensemble dancing is lovely but it’s really the pas de deux that capture attention. Early on, Mr. Trusnovec lifts and turns Ms. Ho as if she were light as a feather, gently rotating her close to the floor, or in one lovely sequence, holding her by the waist as she “walks” above ground. Later, Mr. Trusnovec flails and flounders on the floor while a serene Laura Halzack, a distance away, rotates ever so slowly in arabesque, her grace a counterbalance to Mr. Trusnovec’s manic action.
Set to Max Richter’s recomposed version of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, the dance doesn’t always convey the brightness or the impetuosity of the music. Perhaps when Continuum has worked out the kinks, the unison work will be more coherent and a lot smoother.
The closing work, Cascade, showed Taylor’s love of symmetry and structure, arching leaps, diagonal patterns and circles within circles. Set to Bach’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, the work’s baroque formality still allowed for bold movement: bodies leaping heavenwards, legs bent and arms open to the sky.
The men wore leotards in earth tones, while the women had the more flamboyant attire of double-layer skirts cut out up like modern day versions of a baroque dress, and embellished with bird-like speckles.
The dances—duets, groups of three, four and five—often moved in mirror image of each other. The uncanny clarity in every arched arm, every leap and every spin captured perfectly the formal structure of the music, with a certain somberness underlying the exuberance.
» 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.