REVIEW: Taylor’s Phantasmagoria at Annenberg

By Merilyn Jackson, For The Inquirer

This season’s Dance Celebration opened at the Annenberg Center on Thursday with two Paul Taylor Dance Company favorites and a Philadelphia premiere made this year. Choreographies by Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, George Balanchine, or Lucinda Childs, to name but a few, will always be instantly recognizable. But Taylor, who worked with Cunningham and Graham early on, did not develop such a distinctive new dance vocabulary.

Instead, he hewed to a mid-to-late-20th-century modern dance idiom and took on social, religious, and sexual issues, skewering at will. For me, Taylor’s best is Company B, in which he expertly juxtaposes the jauntiness of warmongering, the songs that feed it, and its primary product: death.

But what to make of this year’s new piece, Phantasmagoria? Premiered at Wolf Trap (one of its commissioners) in July, it looks like a summer-camp follies. Taylor bases the fragmented, satirical work on Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s earthy peasant painting The Wedding Dance. Then, as if to take us through the history and geography of dance, he introduces an Indian “Adam and Eve” garbed in 1940’s stereotypical gaudy costuming wielding a cheesy bright green snake between them. Why go to a top costumer like Santo Loquasto, who got the Bruegel thing down to a T, then not follow through?

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Photo Credit: SCOTT SCHUMAN

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