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Paul Taylor Dance Company at UMBC May 10

Paul Taylor Dance Company's "Banquet of Vultures."

By Ruth Reader | Posted 5/21/2008

The Paul Taylor Dance Company performed seven of famed choreographer Paul Taylor’s most inspiring works May 10 for an intimate crowd of fewer than 200 people at the UMBC Theater. The show was so intimate, in fact, that there was only a small aisle that separated the audience from the dancers on the low stage. The performance was sold out, and for good reason. Taylor’s theatrical choreography is as clever and relevant as ever.

The opening sequence, “Arden Court,” was originally performed in 1981, and in this restoration three women and six men executed the most unorthodox of movements with practiced precision and grace to music from the Baroque era. This piece was a lesson in quickness, as the dancers moved at a frenetic pace. And aside from a few missteps by company veteran Richard Chen See, the performance was spot-on. A troupe of male dancers entered stage left bare-chested, clad only in colorfully spotted nude tights, leaping sprightly to the front of the stage. The movement in this piece was at times sweepingly grand, while at others comically foolish. In one scene Francisco Graciano crouches down and hops about Parisa Khobdeh’s legs as she distractedly pays him no mind.

And Taylor makes excellent use of facial expressions in his choreography: Dancer Sean Patrick Mahoney, hand in hand with his partner, made quick energetic footsteps across the stage and into the right wing, but just as Mahoney slipped beyond the threshold of the curtain, his partner yanked him back onstage. Mahoney appeared exaggeratedly befuddled as he crossed the stage again with his partner and, while performing the steps in perfect rhythm, looked back and forth from the audience to the wing in stark confusion.

But where “Arden Court” was playful, the second performance, “Banquet of Vultures,” held an air of desperation. In the playbill, hanging just below the title of the performance was this quote from 19th-cenutry Scottish poet John Davidson’s “War Poem”: “And blood in torrents pour In vain--Always in vain, For war breeds war again!” The curtain opened to a dark, hazy stage, lit only by faux candlelight as dancers in camouflage-green jumpsuits writhed onstage. A few dancers gathered around their fallen comrades looking for those who were conscious. The dancers moved from slow, sustained, painful movements to panicked, aggressive runs. A spotlight came up on three soldiers in combat, while behind them, shadowed by the haze, stood Michael Trusnovec in a gray suit and red tie. Trusnovec crossed the stage in a sinister slithering walk, forcefully hitting his heals to the floor so everyone heard him coming.

Trusnovec’s character is a fear-monger; his sharp movements and aggressive demonstrations of combat were convincing and almost reassuring. Resilient soloist Julie Tice emerged from the combat zone moving violently, but while her movements were aggressive, they retained beauty and structure. At one point she encountered Trusnovec’s character in a frightening duet, where Trusnovec tries to break her spirit. The vivid scene depicts Trusnovec writhing violently on top of Tice in a metaphoric rape. In the end Trusnovec defeats Tice by stabbing her in the stomach and dragging her lifeless carcass offstage.

The final piece, performed in three acts, was a far cry from the preceding performances. “Esplanade” began with pedestrian movements set to a Bach concerto. Dancers with plastered-on smiles moved with an absurd gaiety, like children in the summertime, running and sliding across the stage. In this final show, the piece de resistance was Lisa Viola, whose quirky movements and shrugs were captivating. The second act within this performance was solemnly quixotic. The pace dropped to a lull as dancers crawled and fell sleepily into each others’ arms. The final movement was much like the first, full of raw childlike energy. Dancers threw themselves high in the air, only to fall onto the stage theatrically. They also made bounding leaps into each other’s arms, the way children canon-ball into pools.

The curtain closed to a standing ovation and several curtain calls. This concert not only provided the audience with thoughtful smiles and chuckles but also an analytical look into critical current issues. Taylor is best known for his groundbreaking avant-garde work, pieces that have both enraged and delighted audiences. But tonight, in restoring classics, Taylor reminded his audience of the raw emotion inherent in movement and how the details of movement, down to smirk or a raised eyebrow, are key to storytelling.

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The Corporeal World (8/26/2009)
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Deviated Theatre's Aspiro (10/8/2008)

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