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Juilliard Dance

Published: March 15, 2007
Category: review

Paul Taylor Dance Company ‘Lines of Loss’

By Rachel Straus

Choreographer Paul Taylor shuns autobiographical interpretations of his dances. So I shouldn’t dwell on what it must be like making dances ad infinitum for a constantly traveling group of performers who get injured, age and leave the company just when he is beginning to love them. I shouldn’t factor in the losses endured during a 53-year choreographic career in the United States where defying debt is considered triumphing. But I feel for him. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with autobiographical art. Taylor, however, has said that he thinks it’s limiting. He likes painting big people-packed pictures and throwing in witticisms that make him look tough. This time, with Lines of Loss seen at New York’s City Center, it’s at the expense of clarity, continuity and perhaps honest art making.

In the dance’s beginning and ending sections, Taylor works in broadly ambivalent strokes. He files two sets of five dancers onto the stage with heads lowered and sets them kneeling on the downstage diagonals. When veteran dancer Lisa Viola appears, she takes the pulpit position at center stage. She pauses and then flicks her brow with her hand as though a mosquito has bit her. Next Viola makes the sign of water falling with her fingertips. She falls backward like a wave is overtaking her sturdy frame. Her deep hinge sends her knees toward Santo Loquasto’s cyclorama that resembles magnified wood grain. Her back becomes horizontal with the black floor as though she is floating at sea. It’s a beautiful moment, but because it doesn’t evolve it’s thrown away.

There are other sections that also contain emotional chutzpah. Robert Kleinendorst’s solo in the third reads like a confession: He does push ups, shakes his limbs, runs randomly as though he wants to beat his anxiety out of him. But it’s of no use. The cast that circles him keeps him trapped in his frenzied state as Jack Body’s string score, which sounds like an Irish reel, racks up the tension by increasing in speed.

Taylor’s Lines of Loss meanders though other moments. We see the 11-member cast lose peace of mind, their health and eventually—albeit metaphorically—their lives. This homily reaches its zenith when the 76-year-old dance maker gives Michael Trusnovec (his most recently heralded dancer) a brief, arresting solo that explores the loss of bodily grace. The solo, which appears midway through the 20-odd minute dance, isn’t tricked up with Taylor’s signature movements: the swinging upward curved arms, the running and skittering steps like Apollo in a playground romp, the turns that wind in and out like a cowboys confident lassoing. Nor does the solo resort to his former boss Martha Graham’s predilection for overtly dramatic gesture. Instead Taylor chose Trusnovec—who has been described as making perfect pictures with his chiseled form and precision transitions—as the vehicle to explore physical incapacitation.

Trusnovec’s slumped and curved shoulders bow his body forward. He falls. He moves unaided and alone. Unlike many dances about old age, Trusnovec’s crumpled figure isn’t hidden in dark, cascading fabric. He appears, like the rest of the cast, in tight white tights and tops by Santo Loquasto that give the muscled dancers the appearance of angels fresh from pumping iron at a Philippe Stark-designed gym. Nonetheless, Trusnovec dances downtrodden against the aural grandeur of diminishing minor chords fashioned in Arvo Pärt’s “Psalom,” whose starts and stops of sound reminded me of an accordion player’s last notes before Dooms Day.

I don’t know where Taylor could have gone after this hushed moment made astoundingly real by Trusnovec. Maybe this solo is all that the choreographer—who needs to make two premieres per year to sate presenters—had to say. But the show must go on. And it did with a quartet, another solo, some group dancing and a duet for Trusnovec and Lisa Viola, which reached the height of trite as the dancers aired kissed each other goodbye, after spending the previous five minutes performing superbly controlled lifts and shifts of weight. Trusnovec and Viola’s duet looked like a test of endurance and strength among equals rather than anything erotic. I suppose friends can air kiss each other too, but after Trusnovec lifted Viola upside down, holding the entirety of her weight by her ankles, it seems a bit incongruous to say “Ta Ta” so conventionally.

In the program notes Taylor includes an excerpt of Orpheus, a 1959 poem by William D. Snodgrass, who was born four years earlier than the choreographer. Snodgrass is often credited as being one of the founding members of the confessional movement. Like Taylor, he doesn’t like his artistic output to be understood merely as personal experiences transformed into verse. “No moon outlives its leaving night, / No sun its day. And I went on /Rich in the loss of all I sing /To the threshold of waking light,” writes Snodgrass in Orpheus. After the air kiss between Trusnovec and Viola, the entire cast reenters and we see the “waking light” in the form of the white-clad Viola, who has been dancing Taylor works for 17 years. Her hands are clasped angelically. She doesn’t notice the ten dancers’ costume change into blood red floor length robes. When Viola makes her final steps toward the downstage exit, the other dancers fall to the floor, creating a diagonal red line pointing to her vanishing. The stage goes black. If Snodgrass’s poem is any clue, Viola is the dance’s heart, which glows and then dies out: “To the threshold of the waking light. /To larksong and the live, gray dawn. / So night by night, my life has gone.”

Viola, who became the company’s assistant rehearsal director last year, will eventually leave the stage like so many great dancers before her. This is one more absence that I imagine Taylor does not look forward to; even if it’s something that he won’t address in full in Lines of Loss.

(Lines of Loss was performed to taped music from Kronos Quartet’s 1997 album “Early Music,” featuring works by composers Guillaume de Machaut, Christopher Tye, Jack Body, John Cage, Arvo Pärt and Alfred Schnittke. The evening’s performance began with the 1976 dance Polaris and ended with Company B, which premiered in 1991.)

See the article at Ballet.co

Bruce Marriott © all rights reserved

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