Dance Review: The Paul Taylor Dance Company at Kennedy Center

John Harnage in “Company B”. Photo by Steven Pisano.

Custom movements always thrill!

You couldn’t miss the thrill of dancing live Thursday night at the Eisenhower Theater where the Paul Taylor Dance Company kicked off the Kennedy Center Performing Art series with a three-day engagement, too short for Washington fans.

For this writer, it was more than just a feast of love, as the program brought back a flood of memories spanning the late Paul Taylor that brought so much joy to so many. For decades he has showcased his business to the DC area (where he had roots) and received awards, accolades and honors in return.

One of my first reviews was on a corporate benefit, hosted by celebrity couple Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. “Dancing for Dear Life” not only saved Taylor’s troupe, it kicked off the golden age of contemporary dance with gala celebrations and extensive ballet and modern dance programs, particularly at the Kennedy Center.

No dance troupe generates more excitement than Taylor’s troupe. Anyone who attends these shows will have no troop to understand why.

Fast forward 46 years to two of Taylor’s flagship works, “Esplanade”, first danced in 1975, and “Company B”, celebrating its 30th anniversarye anniversary this year with songs by the Andrews Sisters that express the feelings of people during WWII.

The curtain has risen on “Company B,” commissioned by the Kennedy Center and the premiere of the Double Bill program. An early tease as individual dancers casually stroll across the stage. Faster than you can say “Bei Mir Bist du Schon”, the 13 dancers, dressed in eye-catching Santo Loquasto costumes, take off, first falling to the ground, then jumping over and over again.

Set to nine vintage Andrews Sisters recordings, this crowd pleaser was seen in a whole new light last night. The dancers are younger, more daring (hard to imagine in a work by Paul Taylor), and more lively when it comes to feeling the music.

Those who are old enough to hum have no doubt found great pleasure in watching the songs performed with so much love through dance. Others responded to the robotic contractions – a hip thrust and a shoulder roll – and, of course, the sleek jitterbug. It turned out that many spectators managed to download information about the dance – there is no paper program.

John Harnage delighted us as “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (of Company B)”, which shows Taylor’s penchant for cool moves as well as athletic exploits. Alex Clayton captured the hectic pace of “Tico-Tico” and “Rum and Coca-Cola” made us bounce back with Lisa Borres and her followers in Taylor’s vital 40s vision. There were always those haunting silhouettes, silhouettes in the background. Was this a reminder of an impending war?

Taylor’s dancers often present both sides of a problem, especially when a dance addresses such serious themes as social injustice and war. For example, “Company B” both depicts the angst of young soldiers heading into battle from the shadows while the rest of the company shows a jubilant WWII-era home front anticipating victory.

Paul Taylor has created fresh and invigorating works punctuated with wit. Although we lost him in 2018, his works remain a vibrant and dominant force in dance. While all choreographers are, in a sense, visual artists whose medium is human rather than painting, Taylor was an art student before becoming a dancer. His dances often give the impression of being pulled from the canvas and come to life in front of you.

Taylor’s excellent reputation as a choreographer has been noticed by major ballet troupes, including ABT, Miami Ballet and Joffrey, who have performed his works. Ballet superstars Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov also danced in bespoke ballets. Nonetheless, Taylor’s choreography is rooted in modern dance. So many of his moves are unique, like jumping forward with his arms rising high above.

Paul Taylor Kristin Draucker and Devon Louis in “Esplanade”. Photo by Steven Pisano.

Her masterpiece “Esplanade” is an explosion of wonder, set to “Violin Concerto in E major, Double Concerto for Two Violins in D minor (Largo & Allegro), Jennifer Tipton’s lighting brings the scene to life. energy and power of dance. John Rawlings costumes are perfect for delicate movements as well as floating jumps.

Every time I hear the intro to Bach’s violin concertos, my heart beats a little faster. And every time I watch the closing moment with the lone dancer reaching out to the audience, I remember how Paul Taylor’s technique hasn’t diminished over the years.

No dance troupe generates more excitement than Taylor’s troupe. Anyone who attends these shows will have no troop to understand why.

Duration: 80 minutes with a 15-minute intermission

The Paul Taylor Dance Company presents two masterpieces, “Company B” and “Esplanade” through October 9 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St. NW, Washington, DC 20566. For more for information on this program and the 2021-22 dance series, visit here.

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