Revisiting a great dance, you may be struck less by its familiarity than by its persistent strangeness. Its many unfolding mysteries can make it seem disorientingly new. For example, on the opening night of the Paul Taylor company’s two-week New York season, Esplanade seemed suddenly to be in secret dialogue with another masterpiece to Bach violin concertos.
Though Taylor’s beloved 1975 work only shares half its score with Balanchine’s 1941 Concerto Barocco, it too arises with seeming inevitability from the music. And its pleasure and revelation, tenderness and melancholy, also reside in basic steps that gain traction as they travel between dancers. Except for a desolate adagio, Esplanade is down to earth and sunny here; Barocco, by contrast, is courtly and cool. But both their steps move like an electric current – or a lively conversation.
In Barocco, the ballerina leaps into the middle of small accommodating circles of women like a fairy on to a lily pad. In Esplanade, the architecture is more personal – one dancer balancing on the squishy belly of another, her arm stretched along the horizon. Both choreographers reflect Bach’s transparency – Taylor not only with clear patterns but with everyday movement as well. Esplanade’s flex-footed gallops, runs, slides, hops, and bounding leaps into another’s arms speak the language of summer, shining a mirror on our most casually lovely selves.
Three Dubious Memories – the first of the two season premieres – evokes not a work from an alien dance culture but one from Taylor’s own past. The choreographer dubiously remembers the mid-century “Greek” psychodramas of his one-time mentor, Martha Graham.
Dubious includes a seer (James Samson, powerfully coherent this season), his dour chorus and two primitive men fighting over a strong woman. The cavemen, Sean Mahoney and Robert Kleinendorst, and their insouciantly commanding prey, Amy Young, are decked out in primary colours. When one of them throws a punch, it takes a comically long time for the victim to suffer the blow. Meanwhile, the chorus rearranges the angular Graham arms meant to converge on a hip so that one arm now supports the back; slept badly?
Taylor, 80, is known for producing two works a season, one light with dark streaks and the other dark with light. But now he can’t keep a straight face. Stick at anything long enough – whether choreography or living – and everything starts to seem goofy.