ARDEN COURT AND ESPLANADE: THE APPEAL OF PAUL TAYLOR

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(photo of Sean Mahoney in Arden Court, by Tom Caravaglia)

So, a little season wrap-up of Paul Taylor Dance Company before my computer crashes (was trying to avoid taking it in, I’m so dependent on it, but think I’m going to have to…)

I liked many of the dances — the 60s era Changes (set to music by the Papas and the Mamas), Mercuric Tidings, the hilarious Offenbach Overtures, but my favorites ended up being Arden Court and Esplanade — which I think are beloved by many Paul Taylor fans. And I can see why. They are beautiful dances, very lyrical, very musical, but also very American, and with a good deal of humor. Both contained movement that was light and lyrical, but very grounded. Dancers do a lot of quick traversing of the stage (particularly in Esplanade) and they run with knees deeply bent, toes pointed forward, hair and garments blowing in the breeze they create, making for grand, sweeping patterns. Knees are often bent in a jump, feet flexed during a kick. It’s almost the antithesis of ballet — at least classical. These are real, human bodies — not ethereal beings seemingly suspended in the air, heaven-bound– but people doing human things. It’s like a celebration of being human. It has a kind of poetry to it, although not the same poetry as ballet.

There’s also a good deal of humor. A man will lie down and a woman will run up and over him, usually playfully. At one point during Arden Court, all dancers are lined up at the back of the stage, raising their arms, holding hands. But one man chooses to do a handstand instead, lifting his feet high in the air. The dancers immediately to his right and left look at him like he’s nuts, then kind of shrug, laugh, and lock fingers with his toes. It’s amusing and the audience giggles but it’s also kind of a celebration of American ideals: free-thinking, independence, individuality.

Both are more “movement for movement’s sake” pieces rather than linear narratives, although in Esplanade, the mood shifts several times from sweetly frolicking to more sobering, the more sobering parts seeming to tell the story of a family member — a daughter — who is lost; the mother fraught with worry and then sorrow, the father searching desperately for her. But then the mood shifts back, becomes more cheerful and celebratory, as male dancers toss the women between them, like a game of catch (in which the women are willing, excited participants), then dancers run crazy fast across stage, sliding when they reach a corner, like they’re having the times of their lives. I was thinking when I saw those slides how much they looked like runners sliding into home base in baseball. I’d live-tweeted on my way home from the theater that I loved that dance, and when I got home there was a reply to me from one of my Twitter friends saying how much they loved the “baseball slides.” I love it!

There’s also this earlier part where a dancer kind of hop-scotches over a group of dancers lying prone, shown here:

(photo Tom Caravaglia)

Anyway, I really enjoyed the season and am very thankful I got to go so many times. I’m a lifelong balletomane and I’ve always seen modern as kind of  “incorrect ballet.” No turnout, frequently bent knees, no pointe — how can it be?! (Alvin Ailey had its own special appeal, with its combo of African and American and its unique themes). But now I see the beauty of American.

So, if I’m slow in posting or approving comments for the next week, it may be because my computer had to go to hospital…

4 Comments

  1. That's a great writeup of Esplanade, Tonya! I loved how you described it. I agree, it's one of those celebration of life sort of pieces that's so simple, yet outstanding.

    I'm glad you liked Changes – when it premiered in SF during the New Works Festival, a lot of critics wrote it off as being “too typical Paul Taylor” where basically they thought he didn't accomplish anything new. I liked it though, esp the sweet bear duet with the little boy, and I liked it b/c it reminded me of Paul Taylor's typical style. Maybe I just hadn't seen too much of Paul Taylor, and others who've seen him more are just sick of him? I did agree with one critic though who said he wasn't sure if the piece, Changes, was satire or realistically nostalgic. I didn't think that he defined that well in his piece, either.

  2. Forgive this shameless self-promotion – here's a link to my review for Changes at the New Works Festival. Paul Taylor himself came out to take a bow! Very exciting. http://www.saturdaymatineeblog.com/2008/04/sf-b

  3. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Thanks Jolene! Yes, please “self-promote” away! I really liked reading your review of Changes, especially since I didn't have time to write much of a review myself. I loved the “Dancing Bear” section too — that was my favorite part. I would love to have seen Aaron Orza in it :) I didn't have a lot of time to check out the reviews here, but I think they were pretty lukewarm on Changes. I liked it though — I didn't think it was tremendously profound, but I thought it suited its purpose. I loved the music! And regarding that critic, hmmm, I thought it was supposed to be realistically nostalgic. Is Taylor often satirical? I wasn't looking for that so maybe I just didn't see it. Now, I'll have to re-think it…

  4. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Thanks Jolene! Yes, please “self-promote” away! I really liked reading your review of Changes, especially since I didn't have time to write much of a review myself. I loved the “Dancing Bear” section too — that was my favorite part. I would love to have seen Aaron Orza in it :) I didn't have a lot of time to check out the reviews here, but I think they were pretty lukewarm on Changes. I liked it though — I didn't think it was tremendously profound, but I thought it suited its purpose. I loved the music! And regarding that critic, hmmm, I thought it was supposed to be realistically nostalgic. Is Taylor often satirical? I wasn't looking for that so maybe I just didn't see it. Now, I'll have to re-think it…

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