Despite Paul Taylor’s importance as a choreographer and the superhuman talent of his dancers, for some time he hadn’t been my favorite among 20th century modern dance masters. During Musical Offering, the ambitious opening dance at the Van Duzer on Tuesday evening, I became a born-again fan.
This contemporary tribal dance revolves around a clan’s relationship to a revered member. But the intricacies of Taylor’s endless groupings create an emotional energy greater than any narrative. Stiff-legged, straight-armed rows of dancers lean side to side in rhythm, while coveys of curving bodies move in and around the layered Bach score. Beyond the loin-clothed costuming, a tribal-ness is invoked through the attentiveness it takes to create and perform this type of ensemble work.
The theatrical To Make Crops Grow disappointed because it was so promising. It is based on Shirley Jackson’s ghastly “The Lottery,” a short story about a community sacrificing one member to insure a good harvest. Taylor creates an American mythology, setting the scene with a sun blaring across imagined cornfields, rocks scattered about the stage, teenagers gathering them into a foreboding pile. Farmers in blue jeans and farmwives in aprons amorally delight in dance when they pull a blank sheet of white paper from the lottery box, instead of a dooming black circle.
Spared newlyweds, Eran Bugge and Sean Mahoney, slide into a lilting love duet, undaunted that in a short time they will be stoning a brethren to death. It’s horrifying to watch James Samson, a father, rejoice when he pulls a blank although his children haven’t chosen yet. A larger cast was needed, so the stage could be full of small town movement dramas.
Parisa Khobdeh, as the Chosen One, is remarkable in her terror as she tries to run from the others, pleading for her life, clasped palms shooting toward the sky, then pulling her arms back down toward the earth against her body. But this is over too soon. The tension has just begun to build. We have barely felt the bloodlust, this inexplicable side of humanity that allows such darkness.
The punch line of the evening, Gossamer Gallants, a hilarious romp of mating insects, is a great vehicle for the dancers to show off their chops, leaping, flitting and soaring about. A madcap swarm of males flies, equipped with blue-black iridescent wings, meet up with flirty, lime green bug girls, falling over all themselves in an attempt to impress. In one moment it all switches, the girls consent and the guys know the jig is up — remember, some female insects bite off their mates’ heads after hooking up.
— Stephanie Slivia