Monday, December 3, 2007


Lisa Viola and Robert Kleinendorst camp it up in Troilus and Cressida.

The Paul Taylor Dance Company has been with us for over fifty years, and Taylor himself has choreographed over 100 dances - a stunning achievement; in terms of its breadth, his only peer may be Balanchine himself. Taylor's oeuvre hasn't been credited with the same depth as the immortal Mr. B's, however - a sad fact seemingly belied by the quality of last Friday's Celebrity Series concert at the Schubert. It was, simply put, the strongest Taylor program the Hub has seen in years, featuring two of his classics, Aureole (1962) and Esplanade (1975), along with a worthy new work, Lines of Loss (2007), and an extended (perhaps too extended) goof, Troilus and Cressida (reduced) (2006). Together, this quartet dazzled in its range and imagination, as Taylor always does, but this time two of the pieces, Aureole and Lines of Loss (intriguingly, the oldest and most recent), delivered the kind of profundity that has sometimes eluded the company in the past.

So we'll start with the lightest (and slightest) of these, Troilus and Cressida, which found Taylor in the high, brassy spirits he's often brought to Boston. Before a gigantic, mock-Paris-Opera backdrop from Santo Loquasto, the company cavorted through a travesty of Shakespeare's tragedy set to Ponchielli's gloriously insipid Dance of the Hours (you know how it goes: "Hello muddah, hello faddah . . .") Lisa Viola and Robert Kleinendorst proved inspired clowns in the leads (Viola seemed hilariously able to make even the most graceful pirouette go splat, while Kleinendorst proved hilariously unable to keep his baggy pants up), and the respective trios of ditzy cherubs and dastardly Greeks likewise knew just how to chew Loquasto's scenery; still, the whole thing didn't amount to much more than what Disney did to Ponchielli years ago in Fantasia.

There was far more meat on the bones of the rest of the program. Esplanade (at left), a thrilling evocation of running, jumping, skipping, and every which way people move on down the road, looked as fresh on Friday as it did at its premiere thirty years ago. The piece is so carelessly reckless, in fact, that the audience kept wincing in fear for the dancers' safety: Taylors sends them literally skidding across the stage in baseball-style slides, or nose-diving over each other's shoulders, or flying into one other's arms. At the same time, the seeming chaos is succinctly organized into subtle patterns (to a Bach concerto), and somehow the dancers, despite their evident physical danger, seemed to almost shine with joy (particularly Viola, who again executed a dazzling bit of backward horseplay).

The same exhuberance marked Aureole, which prefigured the baroque investigations of Mark Morris by some twenty-five years. Working against a score by Handel, Taylor has here designed an exciting, eccentric analogue to classic dance; where ballet technique tends inevitably toward elevation, however, Taylor keeps everything on the down low: swinging their arms wide, the dancers all but skim the floor in a delightful series of vignettes that somehow convey a serene sense of almost abstract happiness.

The finale of Lines of Loss.

And if there was any question that Paul Taylor has lost his mojo, said doubts were laid to rest by Lines of Loss, a harrowing work set to a pastiche of composers (as different as Alfred Schnittke and Arvo Pärt) which nevertheless cohered into a kind of ritual of grief. Santo Loquasto's backdrop may have been a bit literal - darkly smudged "lines," or perhaps threads, woven over a pale sky - but, as they say, "it worked," and Taylor's choreography has rarely been more powerfully spare. From the opening moment, in which Lisa Viola coolly flicked a tear from her eye, every "scene," as it were, calmly bade farewell to one of life's joys - youth, friendship and love among them. The piece would be simply depressing if you didn't feel that at age 77 Taylor has earned his Beckett chops, and if the dance itself weren't so unsentimentally virtuosic, and performed with such intensity. Annmaria Mazzini (who had all but glowed in Aureole) here seemed almost possessed with an equally bitter passion as she repeatedly slammed her torso into the floor, while Viola, in a tortured pairing with Michael Trusnovec, likewise limned the inevitable pain in every shared embrace. The suite ends with a kind of blood passage; the dancers, robed in crimson, enter in formation, then fall to bended knee, except Viola, who keeps walking, into - well, whatever comes next. And as she vanished from the stage, I found myself hoping that Paul Taylor will be with us for many years to come.

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