(above photo of Beloved Renegade by Wiley Price)

Saturday night I saw Paul Taylor’s 2008 dance, Beloved Renegade, which is having its New York premiere this season, receiving rave reviews from the critics and bloggers (some of which I linked to here).

I liked but didn’t love it and it could have been because my expectations were high, or because part of it reminded me of his earlier Company B, which I loved (and which I believe is his masterpiece). It’s set to Gloria (choral music) by Francis Poulenc and I found it to be an expressionistic piece based on poet Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. At the top of the program notes on the dance, are Whitman’s words from Leaves: “I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.” And each section is titled after a section of that long poem: “I am the poet of the body and I am the poet of the soul,” “I sing the body electric,” “I bend to the dying lad, his eyes open, a half-smile gives he me,” etc.

There’s kind of a poetic figure, dressed in all white and danced by the very compelling Michael Trusnovec, who mainly, for the first part, watches others dance — a young, playful couple, an older couple, — and it’s like he’s reflecting on his own life, or keenly observing the lives of others to record, reflect on, analyze (which is what writers do, after all). It doesn’t seem as if he knows what will happen beforehand, and he seems devastated when the boy of the young couple dies — perhaps in the war. There’s a sad scene where several soldier-types crawl on the ground toward Trusnovec’s poet. He helps one halfway up, cradles him in his arms, before he dies. Whitman was a medic in the Civil War so this section is likely an expression of that.

And that’s where I couldn’t get Company B out of my mind.

It was just so much more haunting seeing those young mens’ bodies, stage-lit to resemble black, ghost-like silhouettes crossing the stage in the background, while their younger, former, alive selves frolicked to the Forties beebop with their girlfriends in the foreground. You almost could have missed those boys if you weren’t looking, if you were just focusing on the sexy girls, the funny caricatures, the crazy athletic turns and jumps, all happening center stage. And it made you think how much you miss in life and in art when you’re focused on the superficial, the fun. It almost became an indictment of popular dance in general while at the same time recognizing its importance as an anodyne.

But this section of Beloved Renegade was so much more obvious, as it was meant to be. It bordered on the melodramatic and therefore lost a bit of its power, to me.

Then there’s also this kind of angelic character, dressed all in beige (unlike the other characters, who are all basically dressed in regular streetclothes), danced by Laura Halzack. At one point, the poet does a beautiful pas de deux with her, as if he’s dying and she’s trying to save him. There’s also a lovely pas de trois between the poet, the angel, and the young woman who has lost her beau in the war. In the end, the girl seems to live (if I remember correctly), the poet lies down, and the angel does a slow, continuous turn on one foot, around and above him, as if protecting his soul. The ending was really serene, that closing image very powerful, and it was the one that wouldn’t leave me.

Also on were Mercuric Tidings, which I wrote about a bit here (pic below by Ruby Washington from NYTimes)

Gorgeous costumes, as you can see; very nice, music-made-visual piece that displayed well the dancers’ musicality.

Also on was Last Look, a rather disturbing piece from 1985 that seemed to involve a group of people in an insane asylum surrounded by mirrors, which both visually multiplied their their convulsions, their writhing on the ground and their descent into madness, and seemed to be a catalyst for their insanity. I liked it but found it too one-note. It didn’t seem to go anywhere. At one point everyone has collapsed and seems to be unconsious and the main character, danced again by the captivating Michael Trusnovec (who seems to be the star of the company) is the only one standing. He kind of looks around him, seemingly at peace. I thought oh, it’s really just about this one person, kind of exorcizing his own demons, brought on by the continuous physical self-reflection forced on him by the plethora of mirrors — which is what goes on in a dance studio as well as the world at large. But then he began convulsing again and some of the others rose up and the whole thing ended in a big mound of everyone attacking one another. I’d have liked it better if it just ended with Trusnovec looking down at the bodies, out of breath but having arrived at some kind of peace.

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