Dances with character

By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  August 1, 2007

Extrapolating from these personal stories to bigger social situations, the dancers swung into Greek line dances, Israeli folk stuff, and party scenes. In a mass concluding melee, they slammed into one another, threw one another to the floor on the run — acting out the machismo aggression that civilized recreational dancing often keeps at bay.

The cast included two women, but I don’t know whether that was simply the result of who happened to be available to the choreographer or whether some more profound observation was to be made. For me, it was the words of the original subjects that were revealing and moving. Except for the hair-raising riot scene, Chunky Move’s dancing seemed mostly metaphorical.

Jacob’s Pillow these days is either a critic’s bonanza or a critic’s nightmare, depending on how much time you have. Two Saturdays ago, before Chunky Move, I saw the first of two different Paul Taylor programs and a discussion among Obarzanek, Michelle Potter, the native Australian who now heads the Dance Library at Lincoln Center, and Pillow scholar-in-residence Maura Keefe. Plus an informal Inside/Out presentation of Taylor and Alonso King work by 21 students in the Contemporary Dance Traditions program led by Milton Myers.

It could have been exhaustion or overload, but the next day I found myself watching Taylor’s Aureole with double vision. It was an anniversary of sorts. I attended its very first performance at the American Dance Festival, almost 45 years ago to the week. Taylor’s company now is full of wonderful, distinctive dancers, but their interpretation of Aureole looks pushier, softer, more technical but easier, and at times almost slap-happy. The choreography has changed hardly at all. It speaks for a dance’s genius when it can submit to such evolution and still be imprinted in the mind with its original performers. We have no one on our stages today like Paul Taylor, or Dan Wagoner, Elizabeth Walton, Sharon Kinney, and Renee Kimball. We must remember that.

Taylor’s new dance, De Sueños, was commissioned by Jacob’s Pillow, the American Dance Festival, and other sponsors. Using classical and popular music by Latin American composers, he turned to the Day of the Dead, a carnivalesque celebration of the living as well as the deceased. De Sueños is one of his danse macabre fantasies, a procession of peasants and icons under the surveillance of a Death figure in fedora and shades (Richard Chen See), who carries a pink sugar-candy skull. Heaps of other skulls are buried among the roots of barren trees on Santo Loquasto’s painted backdrop.

Mexican folklore has inspired many a modern dance, not to mention the perennially popular Ballet Folklórico de México, and Taylor seems to have borrowed liberally from these sources: naive peasants clad in simple white cotton (Amy Young, Lisa Viola, and Annmaria Mazzini begin the piece), a Yaqui deer dancer (Michael Trusnovec), a saint in a gleaming gold unitard and halo (Laura Halzack), an outrageous transvestite (Robert Kleinendorst), and the ever-present mysterious stranger.

These characters perform little dance vignettes. The peasants engage in brief courtships and dialogues. Kleinendorst commandeers one guy’s sombrero and stomps on its brim in a high-heeled Mexican hat dance. Halzack, steady as a statue, revolves on one leg, changing her other limbs and radiating benevolence. But the actors of these scenes all belong to one procession that streams across the space with the classic inexorability of a Dance of Death.

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