- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2004

According to weather reports, tonight sounds like a good evening to tend the home fires — and just the time to see two recent dances by master choreographer Paul Taylor premiering on PBS at 10. “Act of Ardor: Two Dances by Paul Taylor” shows the master choreographer at the top of his form.

“Black Tuesday” is a penetrating look at the Great Depression using vaudeville routines, slapstick and popular dancers of the day as the basis for its inventive movement. The choreographer transforms this material in vignettes of down-and-outers and survivors that capture an unsettling mix of defiance, biting humor, clowning camaraderie and despair.

At a time when dance groups are embracing popular culture — jitterbugging, hip-hop — as a superficial way to be more popular themselves, it’s reassuring to see an artist take material like these Depression songs and go deeper, revealing the relevance to their time.

“Black Tuesday” climaxes in a solo set to a now-haunting 1932 Bing Crosby recording,”Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” — as Patrick Corbin dances out the pain of a World War I veteran reduced to begging.

The filmmakers are skilled at knowing when to zero in for a closeup, giving a human face to the dance, and when to draw back to let us see its witty choreographic patterns.

“Promethean Fire,” however, is a more difficult challenge for a filmmaker. It’s one of Mr. Taylor’s grandest compositions, and it’s astounding to see such undiminished creativity from an artist after more than four decades of great dance-making.

The problem was how to capture the sense of driving energy Mr. Taylor has mounted in this heroic work set to a monumental Bach score.

No small-screen viewing can possibly replicate the huge impact of the dance onstage, but the camera’s eye still brings plenty to treasure. The shifting, kaleidoscopic patterns, the dizzying display of power from the thrusting lines that crisscross the stage give some sense of the mighty forces Mr. Taylor has unleashed.

The first section concludes with the dancers on a pile in the middle of the stage. Slowly, Mr. Corbin rises from the wreckage, reaches down and extricates Lisa Viola. The two dance a transcendent duet that has the effect of a healing after great catastrophe.

There have been suggestions that this is a reflection of our post-September 11world. Yet the dance is even more elemental and abstract than any single incident, no matter how potent. To watch it is to witness the power of the human spirit made visible.

WHAT: PBS’ “Dance in America: Acts of Ardor: Two Dances by Paul Taylor”

WHEN: Tonight at 10

WHERE: WETA (Channel 26), WMPT (Channel 22)

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