Audience members were brought to their feet in a standing ovation after the Paul Taylor Dance Company’s performance on Jan. 26 at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Performing Arts. The company performed three different segments, “Roses,” “Continuum,” and “Piazzolla Caldera.” With brief 10-minute intermissions in between each segment, audience members had the chance to reflect on the performance they just saw before being immersed into the next one. Paul Taylor’s dancers glided across the stage effortlessly and warmed the hearts of audience members on a cold Friday night.
Following the footsteps of Martha Graham, Lester Horton and other early choreographers, Paul Taylor is known to be among the founders of modern dance. Taylor has been recognized as a Kennedy Center Honors recipient, an annual honor dedicated to those in the performing arts for their contribution to American culture, and has even won an Emmy for his achievements in choreography.
The first routine performed by Taylor’s dancers was “Roses,” which was first created in 1985. Don’t be fooled by the title ― “Roses” had no sign of flowers anywhere. In fact, the dance featured five couples, where the women wore long black dresses and the men wore gray pants and jerseys. Even though there were no signs of flowers, or even the color red for that matter, the dance still centered around the theme of love and relationships, and was performed to Richard Wagner’s, “Siegfried Idyll.” The performers all started out by dancing as one unit, before entering a circle, where they were all running and appeared to try and reach the person in front of them. Once they unwound themselves from this circle, one couple was left standing. This pattern repeated itself throughout the first part of the performance, showcasing the different personalities of each couple.
There was a section of “Roses” where instead of one couple dancing in the spotlight, two couples performed a segment together. This was an interesting portion of the routine, as one couple would be dancing rather quickly, while the other tried to be more subdued. One section that really showcased the lightness of the dancers and inner core strength was when one female dancer did a forward roll on top of her partner, who was lying still on the ground. Another interesting part was when another female dancer jumped through the rounded arms of her partner, echoing the likeness a basketball. The last couple to perform transitioned the performance from a slow-paced, almost adagio like routine, to a petite allegro with quick movements around the stage, utilizing numerous jete battús and sotés with beats to make it look like their legs were moving a mile a minute.
After the performance of each of the five couples, these dancers took the back of the stage, when a sixth couple, dressed all in white, appeared. These two dancers were elegant, and must be representing the idea of a perfect romance, or the ideal relationship. They danced a slow duet to Wagner’s, “Adagio for Clarinet and Strings.” The dancers accompanied the music beautifully as they glided around the stage in a series of small lifts, leg extensions and places of rest, where their body movement and port de bras was enough to show their elegance.
The second segment of the evening included Lila York’s “Continuum,” in its premiere season. This piece was particularly interesting because it maintained movement in a contagion throughout the piece. Right from the beginning, the audience sees one couple coming onto the stage with the male lifting the female over him in a cartwheel-like lift. Then this is followed by another couple doing the same thing, and then a third couple after that. This pattern repeats again, only this time with the feet of the female dancers touching, so that, instead of an opened cartwheel position, their legs made a diamond in the air.
In a video interview with York, she explained that the inspiration for this piece came from a quote in Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” saying, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” This theme is emphasized as the mantra, as almost every section is performed with one dancer jumping, then the second dancer doing the same jump two counts later, then the third dancers going two counts later, then the fourth, fifth and sixth dancers following the same pattern. York really utilizes her creativity to show the concepts of rebirth and restart.
The evening concluded on a fast-paced note, as “Piazzolla Caldera,” first choreographed by Paul Taylor in 1997, incorporates both techniques of tango and modern dance. The curtain lifted to reveal a dimly lit stage with lamplights hanging down. The storyline of this last piece is about working men and women going to a bar or club after work and enjoying a few drinks. No longer in long dresses or elegant white costumes, the women now wear short tango dresses with black lace and black two-inch character heels. The men – well, let’s just say most of them aren’t wearing shirts. As all nights that involve alcohol usually go, these dancers began partnering off in a series of duets including penché arabesques and tango hip-roles, giving the audience the sense that these relationships are becoming slightly sexual.
What’s unique about this routine is that not every partner is a guy and a girl. Some partners are two females, some are two males, and at one point there are three males dancing with one female, lifting her up over their heads as her leg développés upward. Two males who were partners received numerous reactions from the audience: whether it was laughing at their clearly drunken state, or gasping as they performed a series of double cartwheels (where the dancers hold each other and one man acts as the arms, and the other acts as the legs) into a backbend (where one dancer held his feet on the ground while hinging backward so the man on top of him could reach the ground with his hands.)
“Piazzolla Caldera,” ended with one female in center stage, clearly left without a partner and distraught at the fact that she will have to endure the night alone as she falls to the floor before the lights fade to a blackout.
The Paul Taylor Dance Company provided audiences with beautiful romance, eye-catching movements and a fiery ending. The small stage of the Quick Center didn’t seem to intimidate them or hinder their performance, and it seemed like they felt comfortable performing in Stag Country. These dancers set the bar high for the Quick Center’s spring season.