How many times have you sat through a production of Le Sacre du Printemps and started nodding off somewhere at the midpoint? It’s always a struggle for me and a cause for annoyance. It’s puzzling because it’s among Stravinsky’s most exciting pieces of music. Every choreographer who takes it on seems to be trapped by the ghost of Nijinsky’s original production that had its sensational and disastrous debut with the Ballets Russes in 1913.

Laura Halzack and Michael Trusnovec in <i>Le Sacre du Printemps</i> © Paul B Goode
Laura Halzack and Michael Trusnovec in Le Sacre du Printemps
© Paul B Goode
Paul Taylor’s 1980 work is difficult to describe because it’s completely unique but one thing is certain, it’s not boring. Taylor chose to use the arrangement for two pianos because it was in the public domain and that turned out to be a good choice. I found myself listening more attentively and enjoying the music more. It’s a gripping ballet chock full of Taylor’s signature mordant wit. The basic setup is a whodunit made up of stock characters rendered in a staccato, two-dimensional expressionist style of movement. A baby is kidnapped by a gangster for his moll and a private eye must get it back. It takes place more or less in Japan which is barely suggested by a Japanese sign stuck to a ladder on stage. Emotional moments are often repeated three times for emphasis which lends a primitive, cartoonish aspect to the story that is curiously compelling. There’s a fight scene at the end that becomes increasingly surreal and finally hilarious when the gangster’s stooge, who is the last one to die, seems to be dead and reaches up with his last bit of energy, to stab the baby. It’s utterly unexpected and a quintessentially Taylor moment. I feel certain that Nijinsky would have loved Taylor’s brilliant imagining.

The second piece on the program was Ports of Call, a world première set to the music of Jacques Ibert. This was a series of vignettes that traveled to various ports of call including Africa, Hawaii, Alaska, and Midwest, USA. It was not one of Taylor’s better efforts but it did feature a fun polar bear pas de deux and a hillbilly shotgun wedding complete with pregnant bride. Africa and Hawaii did not resonate for me and I’m not sure if I didn’t get it or if it was just a miss. Even a genius makes a couple of duds now and then but I’m not infallible either.

One of Taylor’s masterpieces, Company B, closed the show. This is the piece that explored the dark underbelly of our World War II jingoism. The Andrews Sisters’ music was all full of patriotic fervor while racism and homophobia ate away at our collective heart. This performance seemed a bit perfunctory and under-rehearsed to me. It was delivered with a casual, loose attitude that made more of the comedy than the underlying tragedy.

Paul Taylor American Modern Dance is getting ready for the transition to the time when it will have to go on without its founder and creative spirit. It seems as though they’ve taken care of everything and this season continues the process of expanding from a Taylor-based company to a modern dance repository that also serves as an incubator of new works. This season includes new works from Lila York, Doug Elkins and Larry Keigwin. There will also be a special “Icons Program” that features the works of Taylor, Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham, three giants of American modern dance.