On a balmy evening on the new Jerry Moss Plaza of The Music Center, Los Angeles dance lovers were gifted with the Paul Taylor Dance Company and “Dance at Dusk”: “Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center”. A festive atmosphere of excitement and expectation was notable, after almost 16 months without live, in-person dance finally ending.
The audience waited in anticipation to see the company finally perform “live” after all these months. This was a major treat because they’re so rarely seen in these parts. The new Artistic Director, Michael Novak, hand-picked by Taylor himself before his death in 2018 was a former member of the Company from 2010 – 2019. Novak was raised in the Midwest, Rolling Meadows, Illinois. Passionate about dance (from the age of 10) he worked hard to develop his own brilliant past at Columbia University as Magna Cum Laude and elected Phi Beta Kappa. This was among just a taste of this man’s talents.
Novak told his moving story of how Taylor, one of the Icons of dance, chose him shortly before he passed away, having been aware of Novak’s talent in dance, his overcoming a speech impediment, and his ability as an organizer and administrative leader. The vibrant young Artistic Director, with his steady clear vision is “determined to fulfill Taylor’s vision and bring his gems to every part of the globe”, not only to pay homage to his mentor’s work but to honor past dance makers, a mission Taylor became passionate about later in his life.
The first piece, in keeping with this mission, is titled “Only the Lonely” by Kyle Abraham, a master of mixing hip-hop, street, and modern dance styles. His chosen songstress was the smoky jazz vocals of Shirley Horn, bringing out not only expert interpretation that tears your heart out, but embellishes the rhythmic movement of the dance. The first couple’s, fun and coquettish Kristin Draucker in bright yellow top and Capris interacts with her lithe Alex Clayton in sky blue shirt and slacks as their movements and view directed upstage accentuate their swaying hips in Rhumba-like movements, using their space as though it’s limitless. They enjoy each other, never quite touching, but so willingly contacting with looks and inuendos. So sassy, as they glide across the floor, lyrics hanging in the air, “Wherever Love takes me” only stopping to change directions and connecting with short looks.
Just as the audience begins to feel comfortable in the middle of this romp, our eyes catch a well placed Lee Duveneck, (the other woman, perhaps) placed down left in a moonlit corner. With coiffed strawberry blond hair, blue side-slitted shift, and heels, this lioness towers over the playful couple. Duveneck begins to stalk slowly, languorously moving his/her body from the inside out. And even though joining the couple, with a deep unexpressed ache at the loneliness, the couple and “lioness” gravitate toward each other never looking directly, never touching, yet with easy interplay and endless pauses a sudden touch gives hope.
We can’t help but be mesmerized by Duveneck’s all-consuming attempt at seduction. The focus is clear but not obvious, Duveneck’s brilliance and powerful clarity of this character makes this the through-line, and difficult to look elsewhere. The phrase looking for love in all the wrong places seems to define this personage. Subtle slowly winding down this foreplay, hips moving as he darts away quickly then with surprised suddenness, Duveneck’s blond coifed wig catapults off his head, and seems to take him and the audience by surprise leaving him almost naked and vulnerable with his now closely cropped hair, heals and blue dress.
Two beautiful male dancers, Shawn Lesniak and Adam Dickerson in subtle pastel colors couple and take stage in a pas de deux that’s technically facile and lyrical, with the wigless Duveneck attempting to move in closer, to no avail.
The couples seem to fade out of sight and reveal at top left a flaming red haired woman with alabaster skin. Heather McGinley, her back to the audience as she moves ever so slowly, her arms reaching then twisting in a repetitive movement across the space in a Cherry Red backless haltered top and flared-skirted dress. The Stunning costumes by Karen Young and subtle lighting by Don Scully highlight the mood. The droning movements melding with Shirley Horn’s rendition of “Ten Cents a Dance”, including heartbreaking lyrics “…that’s what they pay me…Gosh how they weigh me down!”. McGinley is gorgeous, no doubt, but seems to be missing the subtext in comparison to Horn’s deep interpretation of this classic. We got the beauty but where was the soul of the piece?
Devon Louis, then entices the girl in red with “Love is Lovelier the second time around”, but the wisdom of the piece again does not rise high enough, nor dig deep enough to make this piece visceral. Louis appears tight and uncomfortable with the responsibility of such an opportunity. Perhaps this could be opening night jitters.
And finally John Harnage, wraps up the final strains of “Who Am I” with wonderful strong presence and technique that leads group home, both together but separate. This was a challenging piece filled with subtle and important innuendos when fulfilled, are stunning.
After a brief intermission introducing the new Artistic Director, Michael Novak, it was time to see Paul Taylor’s masterpiece, “Promethean Fire” with 15 company dancers lead by Eran Bugge and Devon Louis. Prometheus, the “Titan God of forethought and crafty counsel, given the task of Moulding mankind out of clay” was a miracle of form, spirit, and musicality.
Taylor took the story from the Greek Myth of Prometheus, whose name literally means “to steal” referring to the story of Prometheus stealing fire from Zeus to give “back” to humankind.
This piece begins with the growling runs of the strings in Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D Minor and moves onto Prelude in E-flat minor and Chorale Prelude BWV 680, orchestrated by Leopold Stokowski. The black ribbed body suits are by Santo Loquasto with lighting by Jennifer Tipton. The opening reveals the company as if frozen in time and standing in stillness while the powerful runs of the violins and violas anticipates things to come. Taylor uses the music as a conveyance for runs, rolls, leaps, and friezes of Greek Gods, with the deep strings posing a kind of prayer to the God Zeus. On the floor and in the air the lifts are miraculous hoverings overhead. The use of bodies, one against the other, create formations and designs that meld and release into flower-like creatures, and are nothing short of genius. The musicality has breadth throughout, commanding the bodies of the dancers nearly levitating with the spirit of their mission. Turns, running into miraculous circles, then sudden stops demanded by Taylor against Bach’s music. And suddenly the dancers are taking flight and taking ones breath away. Constant motion and then sudden lyricism…into circular forms is only part of the story. It’s so beyond the ordinary it makes one tear up just watching the dancers defying gravity. Lyrical against percussive and counter rhythms partnering cabrioles across the stage. This is such a powerful piece by it’s mere structure it defies criticism in design. It’s emotional and it’s clear the loss of so many months without these incredible artists and this art form, called dance, has left us wanting and needing much more to fill the proverbial cup as we come to the end with the stillness of the main couple center with bodies below them twisting and writhing only to disengage and soon rolling off stage as the lights dim on the main couple and then to black.
As the dancers walk forward in their final bow, it is clear on their faces the gratefulness and joy to be back doing what they love for those who love them. Such a moving moment that clearly acted like both an ending and beginning with the word “Grateful” so clearly written on their tearful faces. Nothing can replace the arts and artist. Thank you Glorya Kaufman, Music Center, Paul Taylor/Michael Novak and the dancers that were the clay and spirit of dance gifted to us this night.
To visit the Paul Taylor Dance website [Click Here]
To visit The Music Center website [click Here]
Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle
Featured Image: Paul Taylor Dance Company in Taylor’s “Promethean Fire” Photo by Denise Leitner