Entertainment » Culture

Paul Taylor Dance Company

by Lewis Whittington
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Nov 13, 2017
Paul Taylor Dance Company
  (Source:Paul Goode)

The Paul Taylor Dance Company swung into Philadelphia for the first time in several years for Randy Swartz's Next Move dance series at the Prince Theater. Swartz reminded the audience that it was the troupe's 15th appearance in Philly over the last four decades.

The legendary Taylor, at 87, is still choreographing new work. But his many Philly fans turned out to see the 18-member troupe delivering a retrospective of three Taylor masterworks -- "Arden Court," "Esplanade" and the wildly popular "Company B."

Taylor made Arden Court in 1981, scored to lush symphonic music by composer William Boyce and is full of his dance signatures, starting with his geometric and circular ensemble lines that in themselves seem to be a movement study of body architecture in motion. There is a "Midsummer Night's Dream" atmosphere, with the backdrop of a shadowy rose looming.

The opening tableaux with the men bare-chested, in glittery pastel tights charging onstage in danseur leaps with arms raised exultantly, and leg tucked under the body mid-jump. The women, in matching silky skirts, enter the scene for a series of some jaunty duets and trio dances.

Last time the company was here they danced Arden on the wider Annenberg stage; the less-wide Prince stage proved a bit tight for Taylor's aerial fireworks, with the opening tableaux a bit compressed. But the male-female duets bloomed with Taylor's wit and ensemble clarity. Then a spirited male-male duet is danced by George Smallwood and Alex Clayton, that accelerates to a quicksilver comedic dance.

Who doesn't still love the sounds of The Andrew Sisters? Taylor choreographed "Company B" in 1991 and it is both his playful and sobering remembrance of WWII. It is bookended by the Andrew Sisters' hit "Bei Mir Bist du Schon." The opening has the company in silhouette as if they are ambling off a USO canteen dance floor, but still bopping in both stylized pedestrian moves that break into jive phrases and romantic interludes.

Laura Halzack and Michael Apuzzo gallop over the stage in the robusto "Pennsylvania Polka," but men in half shadow appear in the background, almost look like they are playing baseball that morphs into slow-motion depictions of front-line battle as they crumble on the floor. It is a motif that is repeated in several of the vignettes.

"Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh!" with James Samson in nerdy glasses and goofy expressions, but the women are surrounding his athletic body as he glissades and bends backward to impress, and mugs around them. Later, Eran Bugge has the men panting at her feet, rolling around on each other like puppy dogs as she vamps, a la Marilyn, to the Andrews' tune "Rum and Coca-Cola."

Parisa Khobdeh performs a touching solo to the ballad "I Can Dream, Can't I" that expresses her love in lyrical moves that give way to anguish. She is carrying a torch for a soldier, but there may be another reason than her lover being overseas, as two silhouetted men march in the background and at one point clasp hands. Is it a moment of tragedy on the battlefield -- or is there another story?

"The Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy From Company B" was one of the Andrew Sisters' iconic wartime hits and here it is danced by Robert Kleinendorst with immense charm and at-ease deportment, if a little underpowered. Some of his moves were a bit too 'at ease' soldier, and the audience was loving it even more.

Both "Arden Court" and "Company B," struck as a bit under glass in moments, which is not unusual on opening tour nights featuring long-standing repertory works.

The strongest ballet in this performance was Taylor's "Esplanade," choreographed in 1975, and on this night it looked as vibrant as ever, the dancers bursting with ensemble esprit that embodies its pure Taylor artistry in the musical universe of Bach. Sometimes Taylor characterizes the music; sometimes there is a floating narrative of love and loss.

Dancers slice through the air one minute, fly into each other's arm in another, and crawl on the ground in the next. Michelle Fleet is the fleet and daring soloist who doesn't conform; she dances around the ensemble action but is ready to lead the pack at any moment. And it's great to see Michael Trusnovec, a 20-year veteran of PTDC (projecting Taylor's own prowess as a dancer), flawless in this dance and still in the performance moment with the younger dancers.

Paul Taylor Dance Company is currently on a US tour and performed November 2-5 at the Prince Theatre, 1412 Chestnut St. in Philadelphia. For information about NextMove at the Prince Theater's 2017-18 season, visit www.princetheater.org/next-movetext

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.


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