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Paul Taylor, 2/27/02

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I use the Paul Taylor season at City Center as a way to ease the pangs of withdrawal from NYCB's winter season. Last night's program was ideal in that respect.

Dandelion Wine, to a concerto by Locatelli, is a lighthearted romantic romp which ends up funny.

The next piece was the New York premiere of Antique Valentine, with, according to the program, "Music by Bach, Weber, Haydn, Beethoven, Chopin, and Mendelssohn played on music boxes, player-piano, and mechanical organ." The music, I should point out, is all on tape. It's a wind-up toy of a ballet with candy-box costumes by Santo Loquasto. I found myself thinking of it as Dr. Coppelius's final, failed masterwork. It's a slight ballet, but very amusing. One of the pieces of music used is Chopin's waltz, op. 34, no. 1, familiar from "Dances at a Gathering." I'm always a little nervous watching that section at NYCB because of the daredevil leaps and catches required by Robbins' choreography. It was a relief to see Taylor's take on it. Maybe I won't be as nervous next time at NYCB.

The last piece was, as they say, something completely different -- one of Taylor's dark works, Speaking in Tongues, dating from 1988, with music for magnetic tape by Matthew Patton.There was a mesmerizing performance by Patrick Corbin as "A Man of the Cloth," and the amazing Lisa Viola, who had been so funny in Antique Valentine, was dramatically eloquent as "His Better Half."

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It was a really lovely evening, and once again I found myself struck by Taylor's genious. In Dandelion Wine I admired his great craftsmanship, and thought how unusual it is for a choreographer to give us a dance for three men in which there's not even a hint of competition, aggression or a gay love triangle. It was just the guys dancing together and having a great time about it.

I thought Antique Valentine was absolutely brilliant. The conceit -- music-box ballerinas and their partners dancing to tinkly music-box adaptations of the classics -- seems at first way too obvious, and it seems the kind of thing a novice choreographer might consider a brilliant idea, and produce something obvious and, well, boring. I think Taylor, like Balanchine, shows us there really is a fine line between genius and ingenuity, and he left me grinning and in awe of his almost-throwaway brilliance and ever-fertile imagination. I loved the hints of paper-heart romances, and the ever-so-but-not-quite mechanical, pigeon-toed vocabulary Taylor invented -- like these folks were happier cousins of the infamous automaton in his deliciously evil Big Bertha.

As for Speaking in Tongues, it left me bowled over, and wanting to see it again. All I could think of was the preacher and congretation from Appalachian Spring brought into the present, and sharing with us a really bad acid trip. It was riveting in the same way those ugly things one finds under rocks can be both repellent and fascinating. Except these weren't reptiles (most of them) but people somewhat like ourselves.

He does have wonderful dancers, but I miss the awkward/graceful guys he once had in abundance, like Elie Chaib.

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I saw "Speaking in tongues" at the Paris Opera around 1994. Actually I think it is a rather odd choice for a ballet company (the other Taylor works in the POB repertory are, I think, "Aureole", "Esplanade" and a version of "The rite of spring", but only "Aureole" has been danced in the last years), and probably some aspects of it are difficult to understand for a French audience.

What I remember most is the great interpretation of Kader Belarbi in the main role... Also a video of it was shown on a French channel.

[ March 04, 2002, 04:46 AM: Message edited by: Estelle ]

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