Haglund is a happy Irishman today after enjoying two straight days of the Paul Taylor Dance Company which just opened its season at Lincoln Center. Two years ago, Taylor tweaked his company so that there is now an umbrella organization, Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance, that incorporates other American modern dance artists and choreographies within the PTDC season. Despite the whiney alarms set off by so-called critics who decried that it was the end of PTDC, this has turned out to be another one of Mr. Taylor’s great ideas.
Opening night of PTDC at Lincoln Center has quickly become a favorite tradition among dance-goers, in part, because the ticket prices are in the single digits and facility fees are waived. It always starts the season off with a positive vibe. This year there was a special treat as well: the New York premiere of Taylor’s Dilly Dilly set to some of 20th Century America’s most favorite old songs as fashioned by the peerless balladeer, Burl Ives. Jimmy, crack corn and I don’t care; Watch the doughnut, not the hole; Lavender blue, dilly dilly, lavender green; Froggie went a courtin and he did ride. Mhmm. Listen, if you weren’t singing along during this dance, you were probably dead.
America has had no choreographer better than Taylor for finding the light within the darkness and finding the darkness within the light in life’s moments - big and small. Here, with the dancers costumed in Western wear – the men in cowboy shirts (without sleeves), cowboy hats, the women with their shirttails tied in front like Daisy Mae Duke or Miss Ellie May would have – Taylor rekindled the charm of these childhood folksongs that most of us hadn’t sung in decades. Back then, we loved the tunes and the camaraderie of singing them with our pals, but paid little attention to the lyrics. Seeing them played out on stage by the Taylor dancers shed a little more light on what we were singing way back then when we were all in short pants. Wonderfully singable years ago, wonderfully danceable now. The opening program also included Mercuric Tidings and Esplanade, both in fine shape.
As a group, the Taylor men must be the most fit and best looking men in dance: six-packs, eight-packs, ultra-lean muscle. And, they are a spirited bunch, dancing with joy and energy that is infectious. Heading toward twenty years with the company, Michael Trusnovec is still one of the most compelling dance forces on the New York stage. Among the ladies, Madelyn Ho, a tiny sprite full of personality and in her second year with the company, was the highlight of the bright new Sullivaniana, a three-parter set to the Overtures to Iolanthe, Pirates of Penzance, and Patience that had its New York premiere on the second night.
Sullivaniana was handsomely costumed by Santo Loquasto who put the men in black bowler hats and colorful plaid coats with tails. The ladies wore knee-length dresses with modified bustles on the back – also plaid – black stockings and character shoes with narrow heels. The Iolanthe section saw the dancers mostly individually tripping hither, tripping thither across the stage – not like fairies, but like single people looking for their other halves. The Pirates of Penzance section found them in couples, and the final Patience section paid off with a lively group dance which evolved into an orgy with the dancers rolling about the floor enjoying one another.
Never has Larry Keigwin’s choreography looked better than it did on the Taylor dancers in the world premiere of his Rush Hour last night. The non-stop, push-pull of his vocabulary set to the accessible score by Adam Crystal that included minimalist influences and a pleasing use of percussion had the dancers, well yes, rushing in every direction and encountering those who were trying to stop them. And there was plenty of Taylor vocabulary within the choreography, too. It all meshed extremely well to make a very high-powered whole. Clifton Taylor’s lighting design of white squares on the stage and Fritz Masten’s handsome costumes in gray and black that complimented the dancers’ lines added much to the success of this new piece.
The final dance on last night’s bill is one of Haglund’s favorites. Promethean Fire is set to three pieces of Bach and premiered ten months following 9/11. One of its most stirring images is of the dancers one by one slowly falling atop each another in a pile. Finally a lone dancer emerges from this heap of humanity and pulls up one more dancer with him to continue on.
Much is owed to Music Director Donald York and the Orchestra of St. Lukes whose music enriched the evening beyond words. Tong Chen, the Music Director of the Yonkers Philharmonic, brightly conducted the orchestra in Sullivaniana.
The HH Pump Bump Award, a vintage Buster Brown, is bestowed upon Dilly Dilly. Sometimes it’s good to dance just to dance.