Taylor Season

Parisa Khobdeh with Sean Mahoney and Robert Kleinendorst in <I>Company B</I>.<br />© Paul B. Goode. (Click image for larger version)
Parisa Khobdeh with Sean Mahoney and Robert Kleinendorst in Company B. Photo by Paul B. Goode.

 

Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance is at the Koch through March 29. My review of two programs is here.

Ailey Does It

Rachael McLaren and Kirven Douthit-Boyd in Wayne McGregor's Chroma. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Rachael McLaren and Kirven Douthit-Boyd in Wayne McGregor’s Chroma. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Alvin Ailey is dancing at the Koch Theatre in Lincoln Center this week, with its singular mix of exuberance, power, and finesse. Here’s my review of some of the new works (including Robert Moses’ The Pleasure of the Lesson and Wayne McGregor’s Chroma), for DanceTabs.

And a short excerpt: “As a secondary consequence, it has been fascinating to see how these choreographers’ works are in turn transformed by the Ailey dancers. They don’t just do the steps, they mold them to their style and personality.”

 

 

 

 

Season of Taylor

Sean Mahoney of Paul Taylor in Perpetual Dawn. Photo by Paul B. Goode.
Sean Mahoney of Paul Taylor in Perpetual Dawn. Photo by Paul B. Goode.

Another Paul Taylor season has ended at Lincoln Center. The company is looking fine, and the theater seemed well-filed on all but one of my forays. The dancers put an an impressive twenty-three works over the course of three weeks. But such diversity comes with a down side—not every piece holds up, especially when seen alongside Taylor’s best. It turns out there are a lot of run-of-the-mill Taylor dances. But then, you see something like Black Tuesday or Cloven Kingdom or, in its own bizarre way, Byzantium, and are once again amazed by this man’s imagination. How does Taylor come up with Byzantium, with its archaic priestly figures and orgy scenes? Taylor’s imagination is a mystery, and we like it that way.

I reviewed the season here, for DanceTabs.

And here is a short excerpt: This was “the company’s final New York appearance as a purely Taylor-centered enterprise. As of next year, it will transform itself into a mixed repertory troupe, performing the works of other modern-dance-makers alongside those of Taylor. This is a major transformation, and one that is not easy to envision at this point. Which choreographers will be represented? How will the works be chosen? How will they look on these particular dancers, so practiced in the fluidly athletic, muscular style Taylor has honed over many decades? How will his dancers feel about the change?”

Paul Taylor branches out…

Sunset 3menOn Thursday, it was announced that as of next year the Paul Taylor Dance Company will be functioning on a new model, one that takes into account Mr. Taylor’s advancing age and the ephemeral nature of dance. In other words, to ensure the company to survive, Taylor has decided to diversify its repertory, opening itself to the works of other modern-dance choreographers. The plans are still very vague—choreography by whom? Performed with the blessing of whom? But the idea is that Taylor should become a kind of repertory company for modern dance, with a strong base in Taylor’s works. The most similar model I can think of is Alvin Ailey, but even there, the focus is on the new. (Or, as the commenter below points out, perhaps the model is the Limón Company, which presents “programs that balance classic works of American modern dance with commissions and acquisitions from contemporary choreographers.”) The company’s name, too, will change, to Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance—rather clumsy, but there it is.

The good news is that the troupe is doing well. According to the Wall Street Journal, sales are up 27 percent since 2010. Another positive note is that live music, something which has been missing for years, will be part of the equation. (Though to what extent is still unknown. According to a press conference, musicians will be used “where intended by the choreographer,” whatever that means.) Money for the transformation will be provided by the sale of several works of art by Rauschenberg from Taylor’s personal collection—the two artists have known each other for over fifty years and have collaborated on several occasions—with a matching grant from the board.

The details will become clearer over time. What’s sure is that Taylor is entering a new era, and thinking about the future, something that modern dance companies are facing with increasing frequency. The issue as always is whether to close up shop or to continue. And if the latter, how to make a company viable without its founding choreographer. Merce Cunningham decided that the only solution was to shut down the company but keep the school and a licensing arm. Trisha Brown’s company announced last year that Brown would be stepping aside due to health problems, while her dancers would undertake a three-year “farewell tour” under the tutelage of two company veterans. The troupe’s ultimate fate, however, was not fully spelled out (though the signs point toward something along the lines of Merce Cunningham. Martha Graham is soldiering on, conserving (and modifying) its Graham rep and commissioning new works. Tanztheater Wuppertal recently announced that it would begin acquiring new works and auditioning new dancers as of 2015.

One can’t help but feel a certain sense of loss as one of the great modern-dance choreographers contemplates the end of his own creative life, and a future beyond the horizon line.

For more information on the announcement, check out Susan Yung’s blog, The Ephemeralist.

Alvin Ailey, Rebooted

 Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Chroma, D-Man in the Waters (Part I), LIFT New York, City Center 20 December 2013 www.alvinailey.org www.nycitycenter.org Ailey, Recharged Since stepping into Judith Jamison’s shoes just two-and-a-half years ago, Robert Battle has set in motion a quiet revolution at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Like his frequent curtain speeches, Battle’s leadership seems to combine a lack of flash with a determination to honor and extend the virtues of his dancers. He may appear low-key, but don’t be fooled. As he said, with a self-deprecating chortle, before a recent performance, Ailey fans should tighten their seatbelts. Battle seems intent on demonstrating that Ailey dancers can dance anything, no matter what the style or mode of composition (contemporary ballet, modern dance, post-modern dance, hip-hop). But what is in a way even more striking is how the repertory he chooses – often, it must be said, by trendy choreographers – is transformed by the Ailey dancers, with their combination of individuality and collaborative spirit. Despite registering strongly as individual personalities, they are equally involved with each other onstage; like the members of a family, each dancer has his role to play. And one can feel the dancers’ hunger for new challenges – I have yet to see a less than full-throttle performance, even when a choreographer’s style does not quite fit the company’s technique, as with Paul Taylor’s Arden Court last year. Often, they reveal aspects or colors I’d never noticed before. I’m always surprised by how, in the finale of Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16 – a portrait of postmodern Israeli alienation – the Ailey dancers manage to show concern for the audience members they lure onto the stage. Instead of feeling terrified and embarrassed, their “victims” sense that they will be looked after; because of this, they are able to really let themselves go.   Jacqueline Green in Wayne McGregor's Chroma.© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version) Jacqueline Green in Wayne McGregor’s Chroma. © Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version) The new works this season – Chroma, D-Man in the Waters (Part I), and Lift – are a typically eclectic mix. Chroma, by the British choreographer Wayne McGregor, whose whiplash-inducing style and penchant for cool lighting displays have propelled him to the forefront of contemporary ballet, seems geared to show that the Ailey company can be as contemporary and dazzling as anyone today. Ailey is also the first non-ballet company in the US to take on Chroma, originally made for the Royal Ballet (in 2006). (It is performed off-pointe.) Whatever the values of the ballet – and I’ll admit its de-humanized, often sexual contortions, blaring score, all-white set, and fierce presentationalism leave me quite cold – Battle has proved his point. These dancers can twist and split their legs and slide and grapple with the best. And they look good doing it. In a slow, stretchy pas de deux, the gorgeous, long-limbed Alicia Graf Mack, especially, transforms herself into something not quite human, capable of bending and twisting to almost frightening extremes. (McGregor has a way of turning dancers into a catalog of body parts.) At times, her long, curled-over leg is reminiscent of a scorpion’s tail.   Alicia Graf Mack and Vernard J. Gilmore in Wayne McGregor's Chroma.© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version) Alicia Graf Mack and Vernard J. Gilmore in Wayne McGregor’s Chroma. © Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version) But not even these dancers can imbue Chroma with rhythmic variety or subtle accents – there is nothing subtle about McGregor’s arm-yanking couples or the way the men constantly pry the women’s thighs apart – but they do manage to color the movement with theatrical undertones and style. The work comes across as less violent, more attitude-driven, like a music video.   Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in BIll T. Jones's D-Man in the Waters (Part 1).© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version) Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in BIll T. Jones’s D-Man in the Waters (Part 1). © Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version) D-Man in the Waters (Part I) is perhaps the best-known work by the American modern dancer and choreographer, Bill T. Jones, (it was revived by his own company just this year). Created in 1989 at the height of the Aids crisis, D-Man is a cry of defiance against the disease. It is less notable for its actual dance vocabulary than for its energy and joy. (Similarly the Mendelssohn Octet to which it is set is built upon the insistent repetition of a single motif.)  It is a dance of life, clearly meant to evoke a community of people fighting for survival, with exuberance and love. Lines of camouflage-wearing dancers form and dissolve, bodies dive and fall, dancers “swim” vehemently against the tide. At Ailey, the balletic notes of the work stand out: feet are pointed, pirouettes are rigorously vertical, feet skitter in petit allegro. The clarity allows certain details to pop, as when one of the dancers (Michael Francis McBride) returns to the stage to pick an invisible flower and hold it delicately in his hand. The Ailey dancers capture the work’s warmth and underlying innocence, toning down their big personalities to allow the piece to speak for itself. In a quartet for a man and three women in which each teeters toward the floor, Jammer Roberts – who is having a fantastic season – stands out for his gentle concern, so remarkable in a man with his Atlas-like physique (he is six foot five).   Belen Pereyra, Michael Francis McBride and Rachael McLaren in BIll T. Jones's D-Man in the Waters (Part 1).© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version) Belen Pereyra, Michael Francis McBride and Rachael McLaren in BIll T. Jones’s D-Man in the Waters (Part 1). © Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version) That physique is put in dramatic relief in the third première, the only completely new work this season, Aszure Barton’s Lift. This is Barton’s first collaboration with the company; the Canadian choreographer has her own modern dance ensemble, and has also worked with Netherlands Dance Theatre, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and American Ballet Theatre (among many others). Even so, as often happens when a choreographer is exposed to this company, she has – consciously or unconsciously – created an “Ailey” piece: high-energy, with a strong rhythmic impulse and a not-so-subtle African flavor. (The bouncing steps, the wing-like arms, the grass-like frayed skirts.) That said, it’s the only work on the program that allows us see the dancers in a new light, revealing aspects of their technique and physical qualities untapped elsewhere. Barton seems particularly fascinated by Jammer Roberts’s back, a knotty landscape of muscle and concentrated energy. As he rolls, twitches, and billows his torso beneath a bright light, facing away from the audience, his arms fluttering and beating like the wings of a pterodactyl, his body becomes a rocky landscape. He crouches, on his tiptoes, and slowly expands, becoming twice his original size, seeming to fill the whole stage.   Linda Celeste Sims and Jamar Roberts in Aszure Barton's LIFT.© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version) Linda Celeste Sims and Jamar Roberts in Aszure Barton’s LIFT. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Linda Celeste Sims and Jamar Roberts in Aszure Barton’s LIFT. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

My final review of the season is of three premières at Alvin Ailey (by Aszure Barton, Bill T. Jones, and Wayne McGregor). The company, under the still-new leadership of Robert Battle, is looking great. Here‘s my review.

And a short excerpt:

“But what is in a way even more striking is how the repertory [Battle] chooses – often, it must be said, by trendy choreographers – is transformed by the Ailey dancers, with their combination of individuality and collaborative spirit. Despite registering strongly as individual personalities, they are equally involved with each other onstage; like the members of a family, each dancer has his role to play. And one can feel the dancers’ hunger for new challenges – I have yet to see a less than full-throttle performance, even when a choreographer’s style does not quite fit the company’s technique, as with Paul Taylor’s Arden Court last year.”

A Sentimental Education: Martha Clarke Takes on Chéri

Herman Cornejo and Alessandra Ferri in Martha Clarke's "Chéri." Photo by Joan Marcus.
Herman Cornejo and Alessandra Ferri in Martha Clarke’s “Chéri.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

 Here is my feature on Martha Clarke’s new dance/theatre work, Chéri, now playing at the Signature Theatre. I also includes an interview with Herman Cornejo on the making of the show. A short excerpt:

MH: How was the piece developed?

HC: We started about a year ago. We worked whenever I was free. Sometimes it was just Mondays, or after seven in the afternoon. Then, when Signature Theatre signed on to present the work, we were able to rehearse for two or three months in the theatre. At the beginning, we would go to the studio without a plan, without preconceptions, and read the book together. A word or a phrase from the book would inspire us, and we would start creating steps to express the emotions in that line or word. From the beginning, Alessandra and I had amazing chemistry and that’s why we were able to go as far as we did. We all made it together.

Mark Morris’s “L’Allegro” Returns

Lauren Grant and Maile Okamura in Mark Morris's "L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato." Photo by Kevin Yatarola.
Lauren Grant and Maile Okamura in Mark Morris’s “L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato.” Photo by Kevin Yatarola.

As part of the spiritually-minded “White Light” festival at Lincoln Center, the Mark Morris Dance Group is performing Morris’s L’Allegro, Il Penseroso ed il Moderato, from 1988. The ebullient work is spiritual in the best sense: it lifts the spirit. Made in the first year of the company’s residence at La Monnaie opera house in Brussels, it reflects the choreographer’s delight at the resources at his command: a spacious stage, singers, full orchestra, endless rehearsal time. Twenty-five years later, it still feels fresh. Here’s my review, for DanceTabs.

And a short excerpt: “Throughout the piece, the mood and focus shifts from darkness to light, from the joys of nature to the hubbub of urban life, from animal instinct to human folly, architecture to philosophy. In one of the dance’s most blissful passages, set to the poem “As Steals the Morn Upon the Night,” ribbons of dancers trace lines across the stage….The rhythm of their motion remains steady. We feel implicated in the dance.”