A poet of the body

16 of the world’s finest dancers partake in a program that features some of Paul Taylor’s landmark works.

Paul Taylor Dance Company 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Paul Taylor Dance Company 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Paul Taylor has come a long way since being dubbed as the “naughty boy” of dance by legendary modern dance pioneer Martha Graham. Over 50 years after shocking the American concert dance establishment with his avant-garde choreography, Taylor is regularly met with monikers of a different sort. Vanity Fair anointed him in 2004 as “the greatest choreographer in the world,” praise which has frequently been echoed by dance critics across the globe. Now Israeli audiences have a chance to see the famed dancemaker’s wares when the Paul Taylor Dance Company tours to Petah Tikva, Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Taylor made his first forays into choreography while still performing for Graham, and since his company’s debut in 1954, he has created an astonishing 131 dances. Yet far more impressive than the sheer number of his works is the high caliber of his artistic output. After Taylor’s initial experiments – which included one infamous four-minute piece composed purely of stillness – he developed a rich signature movement language and trained his company to dance with a special quality that might be described as weighted ease. His works are infused with this physical imprint as well as a keen sense of composition and a marvelously nuanced musicality. And whether abstract in nature or more specifically outfitted with settings and characters, Taylor’s dances wield a rare communicative power, speaking of and to the human spirit.
Taylor’s extensive body of work traverses an exceptionally wide thematic range, covers a full spectrum of moods, and boasts a broad array of musical accompaniment. This multifaceted diversity will be on display in the PTDC’s performances in Israel with a stellar line-up of three distinctive dances: Changes, Piazzolla Caldera<.i>, and Promethean Fire<.i>.
Created in 2008, Changes<.i> harks back to an earlier era as evoked by the songs of the popular 1960s vocal group The Mamas and the Papas. Clad in bell-bottoms and hippie-style tops covered in psychedelic prints, the dancers start in a colorfully lit club atmosphere. Social dance crazes like the pony and the monkey blend seamlessly into Taylor’s own vocabulary as the cast moves through the highs – drug-induced and otherwise – and the lows of the time. Teetering and tilting, the group is swept across the stage by the winds of change.
Piazzolla Caldera (1997) transports the dancers to another atmosphere entirely, one inspired by a tango salon. Set to the music of renowned Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla and Jerzy Peterburshsky, a Polish composer best known for his tangos, Piazzolla Caldera is laced with passion. Drawing from the traditional steps of the tango as well as his personal style, Taylor pairs off his dancers and sends the couples into deep dips and swirling turns. Feisty flicks of the foot and sharper accents are juxtaposed with smooth, legato stretches. This sultry mix has proved to be a winning formula, enlivening a documentary that was made during the work’s creation and subsequently capturing the hearts of audiences and critics alike.
Yet it is Promethean Fire (2002) that is this triple bill’s crowning glory. Hailed by The New York Times’s Anna Kisselgoff as “one of the best works choreographed by Paul Taylor,” Promethean Fire does indeed feature some of Taylor’s finest craftsmanship. The choreographer artfully maneuvers his 16-member ensemble across the stage, alternately carving sweeping curves and striking lines through the space before assembling the dancers in stunning sculptural group formations. Taylor’s formal composition suits the grand orchestral score by J.S. Bach, and although the work is abstract, the dance is exceptionally moving, leaving the viewer with a sense of renewal.
Watching a more classically tailored masterpiece likePromethean Fire, it’s hard to imagine that PaulTaylor ever caused such scandal with his choreography. But while he hasreinvented himself from the mischievous rebel to the celebrated masterof modern dance, one characteristic has remained constant in Taylor’sevolving artistry: his uncommon ability to stir the audience’s emotions.
ThePaul Taylor Dance Company performs at Heichal Hatarbut in Petah Tikvaon April 27, the Haifa Auditorium on April 28, the Jerusalem Theater onApril 29, and at the Opera House in Tel Aviv from May 1-4. Tickets (NIS149 to NIS 299) are available at (03) 912-5222 (Petah Tikva), (04)841-8411 (Haifa), (02) 623-7000 (Jerusalem), and (03) 692-7777 (TelAviv).