Paul Taylor Dance Company: The complexity of being human

Paul Taylor Dance Company's Shawn Lesniak, Devon Louis, Jake Vincent and Austin Kelly in Lauren Lovette's 'Echo'. Photo by Whitney Browne.
Paul Taylor Dance Company's Shawn Lesniak, Devon Louis, Jake Vincent and Austin Kelly in Lauren Lovette's 'Echo'. Photo by Whitney Browne.

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York, NY.
November 4, 2023.

The Paul Taylor Dance Company’s 2023 and 11th season at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center ran from October 31-November 12. The season hosted works by five choreographers: resident choreographer Lauren Lovette, along with Ulysses Dove, Amy Hall Garner, Larry Keigwin and Paul Taylor himself. The Taylor company first came into existence in 1954, and since then, Taylor created 147 dances. Taylor died in 2018, and since his passing, the company has been under the artistic direction of longtime company member Michael Novak, chosen by Taylor before his death to lead the company.

On the evening of my attendance, the company performed Echo (Lauren Lovette), Vespers (Uylsses Dove), and Piazzolla Caldera (Paul Taylor). The program order worked well because the first two pieces share similar aspects aesthetically, and the last a departure in tone, but not content. All three pieces deal with the complexity of being human…its depth and confusion, its dichotomy, its healing and its grace.

Echo, a world premiere this season, is set on all men. Lovette wanted to question what it means to be a man in today’s world and the result is an intriguing one. Using special string guest musicians, Time For Three, she brought them into the dance by utilizing the raised pit feature of the Koch Theater and clothed the musicians in costumes reflective of the dancers onstage. The effect of blurring the visual lines between the music and the dancers fostered the notion of grey areas, not just black or white. The costumes, by Zac Posen, evoked a Matrix quality, but if the Matrix also had tulle and sparkles – the long skirts and bare chests captured both the power and the softness to the piece. Humans are so many things within one body, and this piece showed how they can all live in concert with one another, when given the opportunity.

Grief is also many things, as we saw in Vespers, Dove’s 37-year-old work for all women. Also clad in black but in a more somber tenor, the group of six dancers danced to the pulsating percussion of Mikel Rouse. A black stage, except for the use of chairs, provided a stark background for the women to hurl themselves through space, their grief not the weepy variety but that of rage and power. With more chairs than dancers, the sense that something was missing was evident. The unity of the women throughout the piece stitched together the myriad phases of grief.

The classic work Piazzolla Caldera closed the show with its homage to tango. Created without using a single actual step of tango, Taylor evokes the essence of the tradition by honing in on the humanity of it — the messiness, the longing, the passion and the fire. It asks the audience to be swept away in the spectacle of it all, while also requiring the recognition that what we often find most compelling are the cracks in our human facade, the flaws we all have and how we navigate them.

The Taylor audience is a devoted one, and their support was strong throughout the show. While the house wasn’t entirely full, the applause made it sound like it was. The strength of each element of the performance warranted the reception – with new(ish) leadership and a new choreographer, the company is poised to remain the stalwart of modern dance it has been for decades.

By Emily Sarkissian of Dance Informa.

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