Steve Sucato | November 12, 2013
Paul Taylor Dance Company brings joy, humor and genius to PlayhouseSquare (review)
With a body of work that is as rich and celebrated as choreographer Paul Taylor's, the question when his namesake company comes to Cleveland is not whether it will be a good program but whether it will be a great one. Saturday night's performance by the Paul Taylor Dance Company at PlayhouseSquare's Ohio Theatre was the latter.
Presented by DanceCleveland, the Taylor company returned to Northeast Ohio after a three-year absence with a thrilling program of dance works spanning nearly four decades that included one of Taylor's most popular masterworks, "Esplanade" (1975).
Excerpts from Schubert's uplifting Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2 ushered in waves of dancers in rapid motion to open Taylor's 1982 modern-dance classic, "Mercuric Tidings." Thirteen smiling dancers darted about the stage in duets and trios looking like musical-note clusters on a page.
A textbook example of Taylor's signature movement style, characterized by rounding of backs and arm movements, the uptempo work put its dancers through an exhilarating array of rapid-fire steps, turns, lifts and leaps.
Brilliantly crafted and performed with zeal by the company, especially featured dancers Michael Trusnovec and Laura Halzak, "Mercuric Tidings" rocketed the program into high gear from the get-go.
Taylor, an avid bug collector and lover of jokes, combined both those passions in "Gossamer Gallants" (2011), a zany dance work that quite possibly is his most appealing in years. Costumed as houseflies, five male dancers buzzed onto the stage to instant chuckles from the audience.
The gleeful band frolicked and cartwheeled through a delightful mix of slapstick humor tinged with very human emotions and quirky bug-like movements. Things then got heated when the troupe's female dancers, costumed as fireflies in form-fitting lime-green Lycra, arrived alluringly, shaking their abdomens and thoraxes, causing the houseflies to fall all over themselves in pursuit.
As with many of Taylor's dances, this one came with a twist, as once the seductress fireflies had the lovesick houseflies under their bioluminescent spell, they turned predatory and began pursuing them, ushering in a laughter-inducing chase scene in the mold of a sketch from British TV comic Benny Hill.
Danced to vibrant music from Smetana's "The Bartered Bride," "Gossamer Gallants" was a brilliant escapade that set the stage for Taylor's iconic "Esplanade," which closed the show.
Set to music J.S. Bach, "Esplanade" was quintessential Taylor, blending lighthearted moments with darker ones. For the most part, "Esplanade" was joy incarnate.
Taylor's expertly patterned and athletic modern-dance movements blended with baseball slides and playground antics. Nine dancers ran, tumbled and jumped into each other's arms with buoyant abandon. If sunshine came in dance form. it would surely look like "Esplanade."
Amid this revelry, Taylor showed his dance-making genius, interjecting a somber section that depicted a dysfunctional family of three veiled in a facade of togetherness but whose emotional turmoil wouldn't allow them to touch each other.
"Esplanade" proved the cherry on top of a delicious program of dance by one of the world's legendary choreographers and finest dance companies.
-- Steve Sucato
Sucato is a writer and critic and chairman emeritus of the Dance Critics Association.