- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 17, 2006

No other choreographer has created such a probing portrait of the American psyche as Paul Taylor, who brought his brilliant company to the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater for a too-short three-performance engagement over the weekend.

His towering talent has captured our joys, tenderness, fears and absurdities in fresh, imaginative movement that makes his group one of the most appealing dance companies in the country.

His extraordinary dancers move like angels — swift, graceful, daring — and, when the occasion calls, with demonic fierceness, which leads to the cliche often applied to Mr. Taylor that he is master of good and evil. But his vision is vaster than that simple dichotomy.

At the heart of the program was a Washington premiere, “Banquet of Vultures,” that conjured up a nightmare world of unremitting horror. The program included a quote from the English poet, John Davidson, “And blood in torrents pour/In vain — always in vain/For war breeds war again.”

Mr. Taylor has found a suitable score in Martin Feldman’s spare, ominous “Oboe and Orchestra.”

The dance begins in near-darkness with votive candles flickering. Gradually a crowd materializes and fades away, leaving two streams of light in the gloom, one dimly illuminating a trio of warriors endlessly entangling, writhing, dying, arising again to continue their struggles. In the other spotlight is a death figure dressed in dark business suit and red tie emerges, convulsed by violent spasms.

Mr. Taylor has said this character is an homage to Kurt Joos’ great 1932 anti-war ballet, “The Green Table.” In that work a crowd of masked diplomats endlessly dither around a green conference table while Death implacably harvests the killing fields.

In “Banquet of Vultures” both Death and the diplomats are embodied in the central figure, played with menacing fervor by Michael Trusnovec. Mr. Taylor has provided him with a variation on the earlier Death’s harsh stomping gait.

But, there is a world of difference between the two works, marked by the changed and charged atmosphere today. “Banquet of Vultures” coveys post-September 11’s sense of terror like nothing else I’ve seen on stage, capturing the hopelessness, doom-laden despair and mindless brutality at large in the world.

As the dance unfolds, a woman (Julie Tice) dressed in army fatigues like the others, encounters the death figure, who traumatizes and eventually kills her with three vicious, slashing blows — the most searing moment in the work — before dragging her lifeless body offstage.

Another figure (Robert Kleinendorst) dressed in the same clothes as Death appears in the dim, sulphurous column of light, his contortions even more frightening as he slams himself to the ground repeatedly and the hellish scene prepares to repeat. What prompts this added masochistic passage? Is it some vestige of remorse by this figure for the mayhem he is about to unleash? Mr. Taylor leaves us to ponder that for ourselves.

The rest of the program was either warm and lovely or silly and giddy, testifying to Mr. Taylor’s range and offering a respite from the intensity of “Vultures.”

New to Washington was the over-the-top, hilarious “Troilus and Cressida (reduced)” a decidedly offbeat version of the Shakespeare play set to suitably bouncy music — Amilcare Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours.”

No one can do funny better than Mr. Taylor and his dancers’ split-second timing and goofy moves, led by the remarkable Lisa Viola and Mr. Kleinendorst, who had the audience roaring with laughter.

The evening began and ended with Mr. Taylor’s limpid response to the music of George Frideric Handel: first “Aureole” and concluding with “Airs.” Both contained the lyric grace, swift footwork, fast-moving floor patterns and melting encounters that are the choreographer’s hallmark.

The entire company looked splendid. Annmaria Mazzini’s fresh zest, Mr. Trusnovec’s noble bearing and Richard Chen See’s skittering virtuosity in “Aureole” plus Miss Viola, Mr. See, Orion Duckstein and lovely serene newcomer Laura Halzack in “Airs” made both works a delight.

Jennifer Tipton’s sensitive lighting and Santo Loquasto’s picturesque costumes for “Troilus and Cressida (reduced)” were important additions to the evening’s success.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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