How many choreographers working today could program a concert with masterly works created 44 years apart? Paul Taylor is the one who comes immediately to mind, and his company’s Celebrity Series engagement over the weekend featured “Private Domain,” a provocative work dating back to 1969, as well as one of his most recent works, “Perpetual Dawn.”
“Perpetual Dawn” was perhaps the evening’s biggest surprise. It would be facile to say from one work that the choreographer has mellowed with age. It could just be that by this stage in his career he feels he has nothing to prove and can freely revel in unadulterated pretty movement. But in fact, “Perpetual Dawn” is perpetually lovely, with nary an edge in sight. With dancers in rustic costumes set against a muted pastoral backdrop, the pieces unspool flurries of buoyant leaps, soaring lifts, playful skips, and fleet springy footwork that casts the 11 dancers into chains of flirtatious couplings.
Fueled by the upbeat Baroque concerti of Johann David Heinichen, waltzes are peppered with lifts that windmill upside down, skirts swirling. It’s almost too much prettiness that doesn’t really go anywhere until the final segment’s shifting lines, offbeat footwork and angular gestures start to carve some welcome delineation into the rhapsodic flow.
“Private Domain,” with costume and set design by Alex Katz, is set to a sparse, squawking atonal score by Iannis Xenakis and harks back to Taylor the young experimenter. The eight dancers move behind a slatted front drop that provides three viewing portals. They sashay and sidle into sensuous gyrations and convoluted couplings with a muscular weightiness, but there is a pervasive sense of emotional disconnect. Bodies are unceremoniously upended, their movement partly masked behind the slatted drop. Occasionally, we only see limbs peeking out through the portals, offering fleeting glimpses of the movement, suggesting we are never fully privy to what goes on behind closed doors.
Though they looked slightly tired and uneven at times on opening night, Taylor’s dancers are solid, and the finale gave some a chance to shine. “Black Tuesday” (2001) exemplifies what Taylor does best — allude to compelling mini-stories through lush, vivid movement. Crafted to songs from the Great Depression, the work seeds modern dance movement with a soft shoe here, a quick step there, as Taylor highlights characters and relationships.
Kristi Tornga’s breezy turns and footwork belied her plight as an unmarried pregnant woman, and she danced with determination. Heather McGinley gave an affecting portrayal of a prostitute questioning her choices, and Jamie Rae Walker was adorable as a waifish newsboy confronting “The Big Bad Wolf.” She skittered and soared, legs scissoring with crisp articulation, her hand a pretend gun.
However, it was Michael Trusnovec who brought the work home in his heartbreaking portrayal of an impoverished veteran. To the poignant strains of “Brother Can You Spare a Dime,” the brilliant spins of his dogged bravado repeatedly dissolved into clenches and falls of despair. The final tableau of the full cast, illuminated hands beseechingly reaching forward from the darkened stage, is a killer.