Last week, the Paul Taylor Dance Company opened its annual Lincoln Center season
, newly branded as Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance, presenting both PTDC premieres and rep as well as commissions by other choreographers representing “a new generation of dance greats.” But Thursday night was PTDC’s gala, and the bill was three Taylor hits programmed to send company donors off to dinner happy. Those of us who were just plain audience left happy, too.
“Company B” (1991), set to the Andrews Sisters catalog, made up the entire first act. In dance, a name like Company B often refers to a troupe’s secondary performance group, the leg that presents variations on the company’s main themes. While Taylor’s title refers to the military unit of the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, the work’s emphasis is on secondary themes.
The Andrews Sisters’ up-tempo harmonies were the jaunty soundtrack of WWII America, and “Company B” has dancers downstage doing a Lindy Hop or jitterbug while upstage in silhouette male dancers march and fall in contrasted slow motion. In “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” for example, Michelle Fleet’s happy feet were out of step with the two men behind her, whose homoerotic connection suggested the oblivious girl back home. (The scene is pictured below, though not with Fleet in the role.) Altogether, vignettes similar to this one layer an easy-to-digest darkness on top of still-fun-to-watch dancing.
The night’s main attraction was the evening’s second half in Taylor’s signature, the “Brandenburgs.” First performed in 1988, it’s danced to J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos (classical music you know even if you don’t you know you know) by five men, three women, and one principal male, Michael Trusnovec. Having debuted with the company in 1998, it’s become his role, especially after PBS broadcasted a 2012 Paris performance with him in it. (It’s available online, but you want to see it in the theater, mouth agape, if you can.) He danced it Thursday with confidence and brio.
The piece is in constant motion, with particularly athletic choreography. Thursday’s dancers showed great feet, the men’s work especially exciting. Taylor’s men are noticeably beefy, versus other companies who might lean toward more lithe dancers or some mix of the two. Essentially, these men have the larger builds used to lift the women, but “Brandenburgs” require them to jump as if they were lightweights. Consistently and in unison. The women’s strength was equal throughout, but it’s the men’s sustained precision that elicits the wow.
Sometimes when artists sing the hits, it’s out of obligation and it shows. (“If I have to sing ‘Like a Virgin’ again,” Madonna once said in an interview, “I’m gonna kill myself.”) While Paul Taylor’s current company danced these fan favorites with the confidence of doing decades-old rep, their energy showed an enthusiasm for damn good choreography.
Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance continues its spring season at the David H. Koch Theater through March 29; the company tours later into the year.
By Matt Gurry
Last modified: July 27, 2017