- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 7, 2000

The Paul Taylor Dance Company is appearing here this weekend as the climax of a grand flurry of performances focusing on Mr. Taylor and his far-reaching influence.
The Taylor troupe’s appearance has a preamble and postscript. Former Taylor dancers Twyla Tharp and David Parsons brought their companies here this past week. Next week, the Washington Ballet will perform a world premiere choreographed by former Taylor dancer Lila York that was commissioned by the Kennedy Center as part of its tribute to Mr. Taylor.
We should not be surprised that Mr. Taylor inspires others. He puts onstage challenging, provocative ideas clothed in ravishing movements.
“A lot of people do what they call abstract dances… . There isn’t any such thing, really, because people are not just shapes,” Mr. Taylor says before a recent rehearsal in New York. “But there are dances that are primarily meant to be just looked at, not interpreted for their inner meanings.
“Then there are other dances that tell stories linearly with characters, or prototypes. These are the two extremes of what a dance can be. And I think most of mine fall somewhere in the middle as a funny combination of these two contrasting approaches.”
Mr. Taylor is a master choreographer in both areas. His craftsmanship is brilliant, and his dances dig deep into buried thoughts and dreams.
“Some modern artists believe in chance as a working method. I don’t,” he says. “Everything in my work is the result of a decision on my part. I mean, there are accidents that happen during rehearsal that are used, but that’s a conscious choice. I believe in structure, in beginnings, middles and ends, in choreographic architecture.”
He has been making handsomely structured dances for 46 years and, at age 70, is at a prolific stage in his career, having created three acclaimed dances in the past year.
One of them is on this weekend’s programs, “Fiends Angelical,” which is set to George Crumb’s “Black Angels.” Mr. Taylor says he chose that music because of its unpleasant sounds. Besides making dances lovely and lyrical, he often turns as an antidote to what he calls his “ugly dances.”
“Fiends Angelical” is a title adapted from Shakespeare, but it seems tailor-made for the juxtaposition of good and evil in Mr. Taylor’s dances. No one can create more heavenly visions onstage than Mr. Taylor (“Roses” and “Esplanade”), and no one has exposed so tellingly our vices and hypocrisies (“Speaking in Tongues,” “Big Bertha” and “Last Look”).
“Fiends Angelical” was a riveting, harrowing work — part pagan ritual, part tale of destruction and redemption — in its premiere at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in the Berkshire Hills in July. Mr. Taylor is in uncharted territory in this number, pushing his dancers into a primitive, ferociously demanding movement style. Lisa Viola and Patrick Corbin always are compelling performers; they were superhuman in this dance of strangulation. Santo Loquasto transforms the performers by clothing them in painted body suits and bushy wigs.
The rest of the program this weekend includes Mr. Taylor’s wildly popular “Company B,” commissioned by the Kennedy Center in 1991. Set to infectious songs of the Andrews Sisters from the World War II era, the work captures the innocent optimism of that time. In true Taylor fashion, however, another side is added to the picture: Men move across the back of the stage in slow motion, raising rifles or sinking to the ground.
The program also includes Mr. Taylor’s “Musical Offering,” a complex reaction to Johann Sebastian Bach’s complex musical structure.{box} {box} {box}
Miss Tharp brought her new group here last weekend. She has been working as a free-lancer recently and choreographing large, impressive works for the likes of the New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre and using massive scores by Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms. She is working on a smaller scale with the company of six dancers she brought here, but she still can pack a wallop.
Her choreographic style is distinctive — a blend of classical movement and quirky little riffs of shrugs, stops and starts, and sudden reversals of direction. Her own direction increasingly is toward using the vocabulary of ballet, rather than the modern-dance background she brings from her Taylor years.
The first work, set to the Mozart Clarinet Quintet, had interminable comings and goings that were wearying by the time the dance ended. She embellished the classical structure with idiosyncratic twitches of head and hands. Many of the lifts, with the women slung and tumbled over the men’s shoulders, became ungainly scrambles.
The choreographer was at her strongest in “Surfer at the River Styx,” to a sensational score by Donald Knaack, a classically trained musician who creates scores using hubcaps, frying pans and other non-instruments. Miss Tharp’s group may be small, but it is choice, and the two protagonists in “Surfer” were brilliant. John Selya and Keith Roberts had roles of a lifetime and made the most of them.
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Mr. Parsons brought a program that was half his work and half that of William Battle, a dancer in his group. Highlights of the evening were Mr. Parsons’ “Bachiana” and the choreographer’s appearance in his remarkable “Caught,” a solo that uses strobe lighting to ingenious effect so the dancer appears to be floating in space. The effect is thrilling and electrified the audience, but the dance is no mere gimmick. Mr. Parsons looked older but more valorous as he began the piece by moving heroically in a pool of light.
Mr. Parsons’ Taylor roots were evident in “Bachiana,” in part a latter-day version of Mr. Taylor’s own dance set to Bach music, “Esplanade.” Mr. Parsons gave the characteristically fast, moving patterns his own stamp, and his energetic company performed the piece with freshness.{box} {box} {box}
Miss York says her 12 years of dancing with Mr. Taylor’s group, watching the choreographer at work and later teaching his dances around the world, provided invaluable training. “Ninety percent of what I know, I learned from him,” she says. “It’s part of me.”
Her “Echoes of the Jazz Age” will be performed Wednesday through Oct. 15 by the Washington Ballet in the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater.
Miss York often works on a large scale, using lots of energy onstage. She is a trans-Atlantic traveler, shuttling between assignments in Houston and Copenhagen. For the Washington Ballet, which will appear in the intimate Terrace Theater, she has gone in a different direction. She has created a theater piece that uses a spoken text from writers of the 1920s — Dorothy Parker and F. Scott Fitzgerald. “The more I looked at that period, the more it seemed to relate to our times,” she says.WHAT: Paul Taylor Dance Company
WHEN: 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. today and 2:30 p.m. tomorrow
WHERE: Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater, F Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW
TICKETS: $22 to $35
PHONE: 202/467-4600 or 800/444-1324

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