Paul Taylor is the last living member of the pantheon that created America’s indigenous art of modern dance. At an age when most artists’ best work is behind them, Taylor continues to win acclaim for the vibrancy, relevance and power of his recent dances as well as his classics.
The world-renowned Paul Taylor Dance Company has set the global standard for contemporary dance excellence. Since the company’s founding in 1954, Mr. Taylor has choreographed 136 dances, many of which have attained iconic status and have been celebrated throughout the world. Taylor has achieved countless accolades, including two of our nation’s highest artistic distinctions: the Kennedy Center Honors and the National Medal of Arts.
THIRTEEN’s Great Performances presents two of Paul Taylor’s masterworks on Paul Taylor Dance Company in Paris on Friday, May 3 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). The dances were recorded last year at the Theatre National de Chaillot at the Festival Les Etes de la Danse 2012, where the company – a Paris favorite – dazzled audiences. The engagement in Paris marks The Company’s 50th Anniversary of its first appearance there in 1962.
Brandenburgs , first performed in 1988 to music from Bach’s Brandenburg concertos #3 and #6; and his 2008 dance Beloved Renegade , set to music of Francis Poulenc, are the featured pieces.
Brandenburgs is one of Taylor’s magnificent collection of works set to music by a master of the baroque. The dance’s exuberance matches the ferocious energy of Bach’s spirited concertos. Mary Clarke of the Manchester [UK] Guardian wrote, “Beauty is the only word for Brandenburgs … [which] celebrates the good things in life. Such a radiant, seamless flow of invention that the choreography seems an entirely natural way of moving to this music.”
Beloved Renegade is set to Francis Poulenc’s “Gloria.” The dance was inspired by the life and work of 19th Century American writer Walt Whitman, who revered the body and soul as one and who famously loved all with equal ardor. It depicts the experiences of an artist described in a line from Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”: “I am the poet of the body and I am the poet of the soul.”
Scenes from Whitman’s life include watching youngsters at play, and tending to the afflicted just as the poet nursed wounded soldiers during the Civil War. After his own mortality is foretold, the poet bids poignant farewell to those who love him. He is then embraced by a benevolent feminine spirit with “the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding death.”
Reviewing the Gallic season, Clement Crisp in The Financial Times of London declared Beloved Renegade an “astonishment,” praising lead dancer Michael Trusnovec for “a performance of noblest clarity” and noting “the magnificence of the company’s dancing.”
As prolific as ever, Taylor continues to offer cogent observations on life’s complexities while tackling some of society’s thorniest issues. He propels his dancers through space for the sheer beauty of it, or uses them to wordlessly illuminate war, spirituality, sexuality, morality and mortality.
“I hope each person in the audience will find something to relate to,” remarks Taylor during the intermission feature, which includes his thoughts on these two works. He delights in the gallantry of the men and the playfulness of the women in Brandenburgs . Of Beloved Renegade , he reveals his favorite part of the work is when Whitman goes to each of his friends to say goodbye, as a Dark Angel brings him to death.
Laura Shapiro once wrote in Newsweek, “Short course in modern dance: in the beginning there was Martha Graham, who changed the face of an art form and discovered a new world. Then there was Merce Cunningham, who stripped away the externals and showed us the heart of movement. And then there was Paul Taylor, who let the sun shine in.”
Visit Great Performances Online at www.pbs.org/gperf for additional information about this and other programs.