Paul Taylor Dance Company Holds ‘Court’ and Reigns Supreme

by Debra Danese for The Dance Journal | Photo Credit: Paul B. Goode

With the winter storm behind them, the Paul Taylor Dance Company traveled to Philadelphia with a program that illustrated their reputation as a trail-blazing troupe. The performance was live streamed from the Annenberg Center on February 19th, having been postponed from the previous evening  due to weather conditions. The company brought eight dancers and two pieces for their first live performance since March 2020. The two selections were in sharp stylistic contrast and made for exciting viewing from the comfort of one’s home.

With a pastel pink rose filling the backdrop, six dancers burst onto stage for the opening of Arden Court. The immediate jolt of energy set the tone for a dance that was jammed pack with non-stop movement. Taylor’s use of contrasting details allowed for a variety of compelling choreographic moments. There were flashes of sharp attack followed by fluid elegance. An ensemble phrase- filled with a succession of jumps and a flourish of arms- segued into a poignant pas de deux between Eran Bugge and Lee Duveneck. Throughout the work, Taylor masterfully utilized tempo to accentuate the instruments used in William Boyce’s Baroque composition. The masked dancers performed expressively and with noticeably distinct movement qualities. I was drawn in by their different artistic choices. Madelyn Ho was especially refined, as was John Harnage in his solo.

The video that followed eliminated the need for an intermission as the dancers changed costumes. Here we saw Lee Duveneck, Alex Clayton, Devon Louis, and John Harnageen in an excerpt from Cloven Kingdom. The quartet connected and weaved between different formations in a powerful performance. The original 1976 work was condensed to five minutes and filmed in 2020. The videography was brilliant in the unexpected changes in camera angles that highlighted both the performers and choreography. The production was enhanced by dramatic light design by Jennifer Tipton.   

The program closed with the Philadelphia premiere of A Field of Grass. An ode to the 1960’s, we quickly realize the field Taylor is referencing is not the kind you walk across. Soloist Alex Clayton embraced the pun and danced with a carefree abandon. As we follow his character’s journey, fellow company members easily joined the laid-back vibe set to the songs of Harry Nilsson. The trip they take is filled with both peace and turmoil. Christina Lynch Markham was particularly charismatic as she embodied the feel of the piece.

The post-show Q&A brought Michael Novak to the stage. Novak is only the second Artistic Director in the history of the Paul Taylor Dance Foundation. He was appointed in 2018 following Taylors’ death. Novak is no stranger to Philly having been offered a Presidential Scholarship to attend UArts in 2001. Novak explained the process of selecting specific versions of Taylor’s work from their archives and the importance of allowing dancers to inhabit the roles in a way that works for them. This was evident in the beautifully individualistic interpretations we saw on stage that evening.

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