Not through yet

By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  December 5, 2007

Aureole is a pure-dance piece for three women and two men whose spirits, as well as their dancing, seem infected by Handel’s music (selections from his concerti grossi and Jephtha). They don’t take on any Baroque fussiness, but amid their running, spinning, jumping turbulence there’s a sense of sweetness, even modesty. They collect themselves at the ends and beginnings of numbers, with hands neatly spread along parallel thighs. The principal couple (Annmaria Mazzini and Orion Duckstein in Friday night’s performance) embrace tenderly, disregarding the audience, as they wait for their music to begin. The other man (Richard Chen See) flirts mildly with the women but barely touches them, and he waits till they’re gone to let loose explosions of eccentric jumping.

Forty-five years after it was made, Aureole is still surprising. I was noticing Taylor’s fine sense of design in the sculptural curving torso and arm shapes, and the musical way he sets accelerations, decelerations, double time, triplets, and suspensions against Handel’s reassuringly regular meters. The dance never looks balletic to me, but it often turns balleticism upside down, with sleek arms that crumple into sudden zigzags, jumps that grow heavier and deeper instead of higher, and grave, internally focused balances.

Esplanade, to Bach violin concertos, is also a pure-dance composition, in which the simplest steps and gestures gradually build into expressive suggestion and virtuosic dancing. Esplanade has evolved since its creation into a bouncy, almost slapstick company rout. The dramatic and storytelling possibilities are there from the outset, so there’s not much mystery left to the transformation.

In the slow second movement, people stand still and look at one another, extend their hands without touching, gather in momentary clusters. The dancers do this with high drama now, instead of cryptic impassivity. In big numbers, they continually flash encouragement to one another, signaling to the audience that they’re a happily coordinated group of daredevils.

The dance works up to a manic orchestrated chase, in which the dancers fall and scramble up, slide and tumble away, sprint into cannonball lifts. Taylor seems to have added even more potential collisions and noisy running-skid-falls to the choreography. The dancers grin through it all, and the audience screams.

The program also included the knock-down-drag-out farce Troilus and Cressida (reduced), set to Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours,” which the company had performed in August at Jacob’s Pillow. Lisa Viola was again a triumphant, clueless heroine, and Robert Kleinendorst fought the Greek invaders bravely, with his purple velour pants around his ankles. The three Cupids, Julie Tice, Parisa Khobdeh, and Eran Bugge, looked as if they’d come from a Playboy Bunny audition.

I got a sharp attack of déja vu when I entered the theater at the Institute for Contemporary Art Thursday night for a performance of Faker, by the Minneapolis-based choreographer Morgan Thorson. Dancers were sprawled on the floor pretending to be waiting for things to get under way. People in blue coveralls were striding around the space, moving props and microphones, tinkering with the lights. We were way back in the 1960s, when avant-garde dancers thought that if they could rid themselves of all dance pretensions and behave like ordinary people, the audience would become democratized overnight, and dance could start up with a new agenda.

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