Paul Taylor Dance Company

At Campbell Hall, Wednesday, April 26.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Schwyzer

Paul Taylor loves puzzles: he’s an avid jigsaw fan who
approaches choreography as a problem-solving exercise. As his
company general manager John Tomlinson put it after Wednesday
night’s show at UCSB, “He solves the music.”

According to Tomlinson, Taylor hates ballet — or says he does.
You wouldn’t know it to see his new “Spring Rounds” — a sprightly,
pastoral affair full of the technical elegance and heightened
delicacy of ballet. “Rounds” references everything from the pas
de deux
to the pas de bourré. The piece is a
throwback to earlier Taylor works like “Esplanade”— the playful
courtship, the family photo poses, its unclouded sunniness
something of an anachronism. And though the dancers, in their lime
green tights and diaphanous sleeves, threw themselves into the work
with touching sincerity, “Spring Rounds” lacked spark. Taylor’s
muse, Lisa Viola, was less than shining in her solos. It was as
though things had tipped too far to one end of the spectrum, and
rather than the lighter side of Taylor, we got Taylor-lite.

“Nightshade,” a gothic Victorian melodrama from 1979, carried
more impact. Madmen and hunchbacks twitched while corseted women
clutched at one another’s heavy skirts, fainted and woke again to
writhe along the floor, then buried their heads against their knees
like plumed ostriches, bottoms up. Luscious dark sepia lighting
spilled rich and bloody across a tortured pantomime of supplicating
outstretched arms, always against figures of contrast: the
reclining, pipe-smoking gentleman, or the eerily innocent
ring-curled girl.

Nowhere was contrast so artfully employed as in the modern
masterpiece “Promethean Fire,” set to Bach’s ominous Toccata
and Fugue in D Minor
. Bach has always been one of Taylor’s
central inspirations — probably because his particular blend of
order and complexity appeals to a problem-solving mind — and in
“Promethean Fire,” that challenge has pushed Taylor to new heights.
Begun in stillness, 16 dancers stood with downcast eyes and somber
faces — an understated but deeply striking image. In identical
black bodysuits they began to flock together, weaving around and
through one another, flowing and passing like dark birds. At first
linear and severe, their movements turned to a series of falls and
recoveries. Dancers stumbled across the stage carrying two others
at a time, waddling with arms flailing before collapsing to the
floor. One fallen figure initiated a pileup, and then emerged from
the mass standing, victorious but vulnerable. Possibly the real
triumph of “Promethean Fire” was its lack of narrative, its
realization in movement of a score so familiar and so foreboding.
For years Paul Taylor has worked on jigsaw puzzles while listening
to Bach. He has plenty of practice fitting the pieces into


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