Paul Taylor Company’s Alternate San Francisco Season, May 1-5, 2013

25 May

San Francisco Performances has a loyal history of presenting Paul Taylor at Yerba Buena’s Theater throughout that theater’s various name changes.  Paraphrasing the alternate year arrangement, at the closing performance executive director John Tomlinson said is due to just one thing: audience size.  “You bring the audience, we’ll be here every year,” asserting that San Francisco is the company’s favorite city to visit.

In a way I can see why the alternate year became an adroit necessity for San Francisco Performances.  Audiences crave diversity, and there is something so comfortable, so reassuring about Paul Taylor’s choreographic output, even in its darker side.  It has become “good old modern.”  The lines are straight, formations are crafted; the bodies may be required to bend and squirm, stretch or curl, but they don’t break into small jerks, rolls. The dancers don’t break line unless there is some characterological reason requiring it.  Instead, you see the broad V of the arms and a stride where the torso might twist as the body is propelled forward, but the body as a unit isn’t compromised.  Outside of the perpetual arabesques or attitudes in classical ballet, I feel it as comfortable as the round table in the midst of an old-fashioned kitchen with some marvelous odors emanating from the stove.

The three programs included San Francisco and West Coast Premieres – Kith and Kin, The Uncommitted in the former category and To Make Crops Grow and Gossamer Gallants in the latter, with the three memorable works Le Sacre du Printemps, 3 Epitaphs and Company B, dances dating from 1956 through 1991.

To Make Crops Grow relied on Ferde Grafe’s, Grand Canyon Suite, movements 1,2 and 5,minus the clip-clop movement so indelibly associated with the Standard Oil Company’s educational program for California children of the ‘Thirties. Santo Loquasto designed costumes quite in keeping with the stark economy of the Depression, colorless drapery for the Needy Couple and Their Children; white suit with paunch and watch chain for the Elderly Husband. Flashy black and red for the Young Wife, danced by Parisa Khabdeh. is all  sultry boredom and flirty defiance  before becoming defiant and desperate,  chosen to insure fertility in this bleak southwestern landscape.

It astonished me to see figures so like childhood characters seen on the street or at the schoolyard transformed into ritual killers, KKKs in sandy soil, minus masks or racial intent.  This simply made it the more terrible, precisely Taylor’s intention; such connections may have eluded Manhattan dwellers.

Gossamer Gallants flitted across Bedrich Semtana’s vibrant dances from The Bartered Bride with Santo Loquasto’s inspired brown-black male leotards with colored dashes, lime green ones for the women dusted with glittering red up near the boobs.  Both sported matching caps with little antennae and wings. Twitches and itches were endemic for the men as they contemplated a lone female insect flitting across the stage, flicking her legs behind her provocatively.  Whether singly or in formation, the agitation belonged to the best of vaudeville.  Until, that is, the winged ladies arrived in force to perform their role in creation’s orders.

Female feistiness proved fatal, hip swivels or cocked pelvis provoking panic in the winged hunks.  One  colleague disparaged the portrait saying that Taylor needed to learn something about women’s behavior.  I thought not. Taylor displayed his situational spoof and what if’s regarding the sexes.  Some women can do that – here it was a collective band of amazonic insect moms,  ahypothetical situation to be enjoyed thoroughly.

From insects to another form of tribal life, three decades earlier, Taylor’s employedf a two-piano rendition of Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps using a rehearsal, rigidity,  and uni-dimensional movement style, to weave an improbable series of events where nearly everyone gets murdered and the Rehearsal Mistress assumes a titanic scale beginning and ending the piece.
Practically everything seedy or fatally innocent is included; a crook, his mistress, henchmen, a private eye, a girl with a swaddled baby;  an improbable jailing, a breakout, Nijinsky faun-like stage progressions, a baby kidnapping and later its freak death.  Taylor’s style uses a cartoon-like series of sections within the larger musical structure; thirty years out, it remains absorbing.

3 Epitaphs’dancers were clothed in black tights, gloves and head coverings, designed by Robert Rauschenberg, with a few large sequins on the heads and bodies at random locations.  The music is a grainy recording of early New Orleans Jazz;  the dancers move like black rag dolls with a floppy capacity to jump, stand limply or move their hands.  Quite brief, this fifty-plus year old dance  never fails to elicit deservedly strong applause.

An historical note: San Francisco’s Danny Grossman was one of the original five when he danced in Paul Taylor’s company as Danny Williams. Grossman left the company after some eight years before moving to Canada where he started his own company.

Sandwiched between Epitaphs and Company B, The Uncommitted, created in 2011 to several of Arvo Part’s compositions, is an  unsettling portrait of human beings literally uncommitted evoked with unsettling clarity; shifting allegiances, half  hearted connections, uncertain meetings flowed in and off stage to the deliberate, measured sounds of the composer.  Taylor’s style does not change  that much, but how  he utilizes it and shapes a theme, particularly when dealing with human perplexity, reaches inside personal armor to register its message clearly.

Company B,with the Andrews Sisters’ cheerful renditions, a little  loud, confident, extraverted, is a time warp, and Santo Loquasto clearly reflects World War II’s  youthful energies and sartorial tastes.  After seeing it on San Francisco Ballet’s dancers on the War Memorial Opera House stage, the Taylor Company’s rendering is more personal and certainly more rooted in its delivery, the opening and closing polka like a Saturday night high school dance to 78 rpms. Behind it, the threading profile of soldiers moving from stage right to left, some falling, evoked memories of the discrepancy between adolescent distractions and war news over the family radio.
Amy Young’s rendition of There Will Never Be Another You was poignant, knowing she is retiring from the company.  Even more, her pause before rejoining the final ensemble seemed  particularly stark, an inevitability beyond the boisterous sounds of Bei Mir Bist du Schon.

Little question that a Paul Taylor Company visit is to be anticipated, a periodic, brief but definite source of nourishment.


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