If tonight’s performance by the Paul Taylor Dance Company is anything to go on, this year’s season at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland College Park is going to be unforgettable. Executive Director Susie Farr introduced the company by saying that performances by the Paul Taylor Dance Company have never failed to “delight and surprise” her – a statement the company more than lived up to in tonight’s performance.
The company performed four of Taylor’s iconic pieces, beginning with the trailblazing Aureole. First performed in 1962, the piece pairs very modern, stylized dancing with Baroque music by Handel, which makes for an intriguingly beautiful piece. While such modern dance moves might initially seem incongruous with such ornamental, melodic music, as the piece continued, the stylized, almost choppy, movements seemed to mirror the formality and rigidity of the music. Of course, such a piece would not work without talented dancers, and the company did not disappoint. All five of the dancers were energetic and wonderful, but the standout—both in this piece and throughout the night – was Michael Trusnovec. He had an interesting solo which highlighted the line and strength of the human body in a wonderful way.
From that bouncy, energetic piece, the company then performed 3 Epitaphs. This piece, which uses early New Orleans jazz music, was hilarious. The costumes, by Robert Rauschenberg, were full-body suits with masks and gloves, which made it impossible to distinguish one dancer from another. The dancers slouched on stage, and did semi-recognizable dance moves in a half-hearted way – the moves were purposefully made to look lazy, despite the clear skill they required from the dancers. But what made this piece a hit with the audience tonight was not just the moves themselves, but the attitude of the dancers. Despite their masks, they were clearly enjoying themselves in pretending to not want to dance, which energy was clearly communicated to the audience. Dancers slouched onstage and immediately back offstage, as if they just didn’t feel like dancing; one dancer followed – and ran into – another dancer, which made the audience roar with laughter. And judging from the huge smiles of the dancers when they took their bows for the piece – without their masks – they enjoyed it just as much as the audience did.
In a stark contrast to the humor of 3 Epitaphs was Taylor’s The Uncommited. Set to music by Arvo Part, the minimalist music combined nicely with the darkly colorful costumes by Santo Loquasto. First performed in 2011, and exploring the uncommitted relationships of the 21st century, the piece began with solos, then transitioned into duets with constantly switching partners, and ended with the full cast dancing together. Initially I was simply confused: the solemn, almost processional-like music did not seem to fit the passionate, frantic, angry solos. But as the piece continued, and transitioned into the duets, with waltzes with partners coming together and pushing each other angrily away, and one especially memorable sequence of dance-fights, the story became clearer. When it came to end, with the whole cast dancing and each dancer peeling off and heading offstage one-by-one, the passion and energy of the dancers really brought to life the point of the piece.
Ending the night – and on a happier note – was Brandenburgs. Performed to Bach’s Branderburg Concertos, this piece was fantastically exuberant. The dancers, with their superb athleticism and joy in the dance, made this piece a wonderful way to end the night. The audience clearly agreed, showing their appreciation with a standing ovation.
I’m not a dancer – I’m sure there were nuances to each piece that escaped me – but what I loved about the evening and this company was that it didn’t matter: thanks to both Paul Taylor’s excellent choreography and the fabulously skilled dancers, each dance entertained – and more importantly, moved me. If tonight is a hallmark of the quality of performances the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center has in store for this season, it will truly be an excellent season.
Running time: One hour and 45 minutes, with two 15-minute intermissions.
The Paul Taylor Dance Company was performed on September 8, 2012 in the Ina & Jack Kay Theatre, of the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland – at the intersection of Stadium Drive and Route 193, in College Park, MD. For tickets for future events, call (301) 405.ARTS (2787), or purchase them online.