The unadorned black box set was nothing more than that until the lights went down. Then, it became an 18th century courtly affair, an Amazonian heartbreak war and a ‘50s post-war portrait of American sentiments. The black floor and walls (and the audience with it) were transported through time and space by Paul Taylor 2 Dance Company.
Taylor 2 performed at the ETSU Culp Auditorium on the evening of October 13 as a headlining act in Mary B. Martin School of the Arts’ fall 2016 season. Taylor 2 is the more mobile and educational offspring of New York-based Paul Taylor Dance Company, both established by the mastermind of modern American dance, Paul Taylor. Taylor 2’s performance was a victory for Anita DeAngelis, director of Mary B. Martin School of the Arts, who welcomed the audience by saying that she had been working for years to bring Taylor’s “incredible and pioneering” work onto the Culp stage.
The three-act exhibition started with one of Taylor’s first breakthrough choreographies, Aureole, a 5-movement piece first performed in 1962. This piece is known for being Taylor’s departure from a strictly modern American dance style into a more classically-inspired space (the music is Handel, after all). He was quoted as vowing that his work would be “free from the cobwebs of time,” which is evident in Aureole, seamlessly blending Handelian melodies and ballet-inspired choreography into his contemporary repertoire.
The piece was well-received upon premiere and was equally well received at ETSU 64 years later. There was an idyllic overtone across four of the five movements, with the exception of the second. This movement, a male solo originally performed by Taylor himself, leaves the audience suspended in limbo (most of the dance is performed balanced on one leg), visualizing a poignant constraint inside of this character unbeknownst to his company. Performed by Lee Dunveneck of Taylor 2, what is considered to be one of the most beautiful adagios ever choreographed was the highlight of the Company’s full performance.
After getting nice and comfortable inside an accessible, lyrical “18th century” spin-off ballet, the black box was drastically morphed into Amazonian heartbreak warfare. The Uncommitted, the title of the second act, wavered between a hallucinatory trance among unfaithful lovers and Amazonian tribal warriors fighting affairs of the heart. The Uncommitted was passionate, reaching without touching, full of betrayal and lust; the set of solos alternating with group dances were presented as a display of each’s own internal despair and turmoil then (literally) spiraling into the arms of the others. This act was dominated by Alana Allende, whose soaring lifts and deadly drops (by Dunveneck and Princeton McCurtain) left the audience gasping for breath. It was also enough to make up for a lack of cohesiveness and precision in the opening few minutes of the act, unwelcome among nearly flawless execution throughout the rest of the program. Evocatively vivid costumes and painfully haunting musical arrangements by Arvo Pärt gave The Uncommitted, the newest piece on the program (first performed in 2011), a bold and contemporary fervor.
In the final act of the performance, Company B, the black box was fancifully transformed yet again. This time, into the halcyon days of 1950s post-war America, complete with nuclear town-esque row homes, swing music and true-to-form modern American dance. Company B and its undeniably Taylor choreography was paired with the iconic voices of the Andrews Sisters singing tunes like the Pennsylvania Polka, Oh Johnny, I Can Dream Can’t I? and Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. The comical and lively set was undoubtedly a crowd-pleaser, dialing down on the sophistication that the other pieces epitomized but dialing up the vivacity. Company B concluded the evening’s journey through contrasting eras and styles of modern dance with rapturous applause.
For a complete lineup of Mary B. Martin School of the Art’s fall season, visit etsu.edu/cas/martin.