Paul Taylor American Modern Dance’s 2018 season at Lincoln Center features two new commissions plus guest appearances from the Trisha Brown Dance Company and Sara Mearns. Clearly, Taylor is not going gentle into that good night. PTAMD was created in 2015 to secure his legacy and preserve the works of other choreographers as well as support the creation of new works. This program featured two of Taylor’s celebrated dances from the 1980’s with one of the new commissions, this one by Bryan Arias, sandwiched in the middle. Taylor’s work notably covers the extremes from the sacred to the profane and everything in between. Musical Offering is a deeply sacred work that pairs Bach’s music with images derived from wooden statues of New Guinea. The contrast between the primitive, even rigid poses and sublime musical counterpoint quickly resolves into fusion between life and death, movement and stillness. As always, Taylor reveals the music through movement. The culmination of Musical Offering came with Michelle Fleet portraying a goddess figure in part VIII. Towards the end of it, she is lifted overhead by the men who turn her, head over heels, several times until she is upright, towering above. They carry her off triumphantly in a celebration of female divinity. This ballet is suffused with sacredness.

Michelle Fleet, James Samson and Laura Halzack in <i>Musical Offering</i> © Paul B Goode
Michelle Fleet, James Samson and Laura Halzack in Musical Offering
© Paul B Goode

Arden Court harkens back to Taylor’s signature works that revel in the sheer joy of motion. Like Aureole and Esplanade, this ballet has moments where you’re watching and secretly thinking this looks easy enough that you might try it. The flow of movement is so natural that it looks effortless. All of Taylor’s greatest attributes come to the fore. There’s that unmistakable gentility between the performers. They treat one another with something approaching reverence. You can feel the connections between them as performers and as human beings in the world. The duets are full of sweetness and joy. I love the inventive moments of playfulness such as when a dancer uses her partner’s thigh as a jumping off point for a running leap. Everywhere you look in this work there is kindness, consideration and generosity of spirit. Most of all there is ebullience.

Dancers of the company in <i>Arden Court</i> © Paul B Goode
Dancers of the company in Arden Court
© Paul B Goode

It was not to Bryan Arias’ advantage to have his new work premiere between two of Taylor’s greatest ballets. The Beauty in the Gray could only suffer in comparison. This is a relationship ballet that will tax your capacity for empathy. It delves into all kinds of permutations of connections between people but it lacks a certain diversity of experience. My reservation with it is in the repetition of the negative aspects of these various relationships. Most annoyingly, there is much grabbing of a partner’s head, which is a gesture of extreme dominance. This is not to say that I’m against using such images because that is admittedly a dynamic with many people. Negativity and the way we harm one another isn’t something we should hide from or try to hide and deny in making art. The problem with Arias’ work is that it’s the same thing, over and over again. There’s not enough variation between the various groupings. The choreography was not bad but after the third time a dancer grabbed his partner’s head I found my eyes rolling involuntarily.

Paul Taylor American Modern Dance is fulfilling its mission to preserve and protect his legacy and to save the works of other modern dance pioneers. At the same time, they are commissioning new works and continuing to innovate with programming that engages the public.

***11