Tangy Laughter & Taylor’s Lyricism

March 21st, 2009 § 0 comments

Paul Taylor almost seems too fun. Listening to NPR last week my interested was aroused by an interview conducted with the choreographer, discussing Taylor’s new pieces that premiered last weekend. I knew of his company, but didn’t remember if I had ever seen them dance. Each performance night at the City Center showed a different combination of pieces, mixing the new work with the old, and it took me the rest of the working day to decide which combination I wanted to see most. I picked well, after consulting the Fossil, although the Saturday night performance simply caused me to want to see the Sunday afternoon show. Dragging the Fossil along he asked warily if this was a, “ballet company?” Paul Taylor’s dance company is not a ballet company, but they use ballet as much as all dances and dancers must. The final piece of the show, Offenbach Overtures, was dedicated to poking fun at the traditional form all ballets take. Listening to an interview with Paul Taylor, he states of his working method:

…and I don’t really have a message as such, but I am aware of the world we live in, and I watch people, I’m a watcher. I’m a terrible spy. I watch people move in their everyday lives, and their gestures that are so communicative. And those are so useable in a dance.

This is perhaps why he draws most heavily from popular culture, from the dance styles of past decades, styles rooted in expressing the mood of a particular time. Taylor mixes what I might call trained steps and styles of dance, from Broadway to Ballet, with the nonchalant shrugs and expressions we use daily to show any range of emotions. This idea is exemplified in Taylor’s new piece, Changes, set to music by the Mamas and the Papas, costumed and danced in the style, or rather with the attitude of, the 60’s. Taylor’s interpretation of this time is also not as idealistic, stereotypical, or amusing is it seems, and the parallels he makes with “changes” now are unmistakable. The description of the piece reads:

We remember the Sixties as being defined by the demand for radical change. Rejecting politicians’ fear mongering and their disastrous war in Vietnam, young people questioned authority and embraced liberation movements. While this era seems singular, in fact it was not. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

It is these undertones in Taylor’s work that I enjoy most. While I appreciate how accessible, charming, and engaging his work is, the usual alienation of dance is certainly not productive, I expect more from all art than a good laugh on a Saturday night.

Taylor’s questioning is subtle at times, but he dissects the relationships between the different elements on his stage. With his dancers he deals with stereotypes of appearance. His dancers look like real people with functioning bodies whose gender roles—what types of steps are danced and by whom—have been mixed up and rearranged. The changes are humorous, with men dancing a pas-de-deux together or women leading instead of men, but they question traditions that are older and more ingrained than we care to think. He questions the relationship between dance and music, with a kind of ‘which comes first’ and ‘what is more important’ attitude of investigation. I don’t think I have ever seen choreography that uses all different kinds of music, ranging from 1860’s romantic era classical to 1960’s rock & roll, as carefully or thoughtfully. The dancers didn’t seem to be dancing with music, or to music, they seemed a necessary part of it. He also questions our relationship with the spectacle onstage, tempting us to laugh before jabbing unexpectedly with a harder gesture. Taylor is a great observer of movements, his knowledge of the gestures we relate to and how they affect our bodies, even while sitting in fancy, red chairs “appreciating” dance, is amazingly disconcerting.

(Black Tuesday, Songs from the Great Depression. The pieces we saw are not online, but I thought this segment summed up my general impressions, or the point of this post. The last piece in this video, by far my favorite, provides the contrast I enjoy.)

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