Tag Archives: Paul Taylor

Parsons Dance’s Program a Delightful Mix of Current and Classic Works [REVIEW]


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Parsons Dance. Photo by Travis Magee.

Parsons Dance
The University of Akron’s EJ Thomas Hall
Akron, Ohio
October 12, 2019

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Few choreographers begin their careers with what would be their seminal work. David Parsons did just that with his 1982 work “Caught”.  On the greatest hits list of modern dance works of the 20th century, “Caught” was one of five works Parsons Dance performed Saturday night at The University of Akron’s EJ Thomas Hall.

Presented by The University of Akron’s Dance Department and DANCECleveland to open its 2019-20 mainstage season, the popular NYC-based company was last in Northeast, Ohio as part of DANCECleveland’s 2015 season.

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Parsons Dance in “Round My World”. Photo by Travis Magee.

Parsons Dance’s mixed repertory program capped a week-long residency at the University and led off with Parsons’ 2012 work “Round My World” to music by Canadian-born cellist and composer Zoë Keating.  Constructed on themes of roundedness and circularity, Parsons’ choreography for the zippy work took those themes and ran with them. The troupe’s 6 dancers engaged in a myriad of rounded arm and circular movements and jumps. The visual equivalent of an ear worm, Parson’s pleasant choreographic patterns lodged themselves in the viewer’s mind circling round and round.

Next came choreographer Trey McIntyre’s latest work set to a suite of songs from a popular music artist, “Eight Women” (2019). Danced to music by the late Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, the work for the company’s 8 dancers had a similar vibe to “Round My World” but with a funkier approach. In it, Parson’s dancers led by Henry Steele, interpreted the mood of such Franklin hits as “Spanish Harlem,” “I Say A Little Prayer” and “Natural Woman” via breezy, direction-shifting hops and turning steps that were soothing to watch.

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Parsons Dance in “Eight Women”. Photo by Travis Magee.

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Parsons Dance in “Microburst”. Photo courtesy of Parsons Dance.

A protégé of Paul Taylor, whose company he danced for many years, many of Parsons’ own works show influences of Taylor in their style. “Microburst” (2018) was not one of them. The somewhat unique dance work mixed elements of tap and modern dance to an original Indian tabla score by Avirodh Sharama.  Reflecting the work’s title, the sound effect of a storm ushered in the piece in darkness. Then the stage lights came up on a quartet of dancers whose microbursts of movement were tied to and punctuated notes in the illustrative drum music. Originally performed with a live tabla player onstage, Parsons added the placement of a small silver bell onstage as a stand-in for the missing musician that was rung once during the piece by dancer Zoey Anderson.

Substituting tap and modern dance movement and attitude for the traditional Indian dance choreography one might expect paired with the tabla score, the engaging work was a breath of fresh air in its appeal and in the charm it allowed dancers Anderson, Shawn Lesniak, Deidre Rogan and Joan Rodriguez to exhibit in their dancing.

Then, after a quick costume change by Anderson, the blonde-haired powerhouse from Utah performed “Caught”.

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Zoey Anderson in “Caught”. Photo courtesy of Parsons Dance.

Created by Parsons and company co-founder and lighting designer for all the works on the program Howell Binkley, the 6-minute solo to music by Robert Fripp used a strobe effect and a hundred or so jumps to give the illusion of Anderson flying about the stage not touching ground but for a few pauses to stand in spotlight in a military at ease pose center stage.  An audience favorite, the work has been performed over 2,500 times mostly by male company members. Anderson was spot on in her performance of the work garnering the stunned reactions and appreciative applause audiences generally give the work.

Rounding out the program was Parsons’ 1990 nod to Brazilian culture, “Nascimento” (Portuguese for “birth”). A frequent program closer, the work was inspired by and set to an original score by Brazilian singer/songwriter Milton Nascimento, Parsons’ 8 dancers skipped and bounded about the stage in joyous and playful choreography full of kicks, spins and lifts to an infectious beat that dared you to try and sit still.

Per usual Parsons Dance delivered a program of works with one goal — to entertain.  A rousing standing ovation at program’s end signaled mission accomplished.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

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Documentary ‘Mr. Gaga’ a Brilliant Portrait of Ohad Naharin


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Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Calling over a young female dancer choreographer Ohad Naharin asks her to give him her weight as she, back to him with his arms under hers, gives into gravity and drops to the floor in the knowledge he will catch her. Naharin asks her to repeat this exercise twice more but on the third time, to her surprise, he lets her fall to the floor.  The scene from Israeli filmmakers Tomer and Barak Heymann’s award-winning documentary Mr. Gaga (2015) hints at the complex and contradictory nature of Naharin as a person and an artist; one whose strong beliefs ask himself and others to circumvent their internal safety nets for the sake of great art.

Mr. Gaga is an insightful, engaging and at times moving portrait of the Israeli dancer/choreographer exposing his flaws, his genius and humanizing his persona as one of world’s leading contemporary choreographers and dance practitioners.

Eight years in the making, Mr. Gaga traces Naharin’s artistic roots and sheds light on his dance career and personal life, using family films, rehearsal footage and unseen archive material along with clips from his dance works.

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Ohad Naharin. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Born in 1952 on Kibbutz Mizra, the documentary begins with Naharin lamenting his family’s move from the Kibbutz when he was 5 ½ and professing his love for that time in his life. The documentary continues with Naharin’s mandatory military service in which without formal dance training, he is accepted into the Israeli army’s performance troupe as a dancer, singer and choreographer. Writer/director Tomer Heymann intercuts these scenes with archive military footage of Naharin performing, war footage and excerpts of Batsheva Dance Company performing Naharin’s 2003 dance work “Mamootot,” inspired by his experiences during 1973’s Yom Kippur War.  Using mood music by Ishai Adar and voiceovers from Naharin such as his reflecting on “singing bad songs to traumatized soldiers” as his army friends were dying each day, Heymann creates a sense of drama, tension and a connection with Naharin as a man. It’s a formula Heymann uses effectively throughout the film.

After his army service in 1974, Naharin starts his formal dance training joining Batsheva at age 22.  One of his dance teachers there Judith Brin Ingler describes the young Naharin as being like Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire Cat, green eyed, aloof and with a unique way of moving.  Then following a visit by Martha Graham to set a work on Batsheva (a company she helped foster in 1964), Naharin moved to New York to join the Graham Company. Says Naharin of the experience: “I came to New York full of hopes and fantasies. Dancing with Martha Graham did not fulfill those hopes and fantasies and after 10 months I had to leave.” Similarly, Naharin also describes in the film his disappointment in joining Maurice Bejart’s Ballet du XXe Siecle in Brussels, calling it “the worst year of his life” and saying “I learned about what I don’t want to do.”

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Photo by Gadi Dagon.

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Photo by Gadi Dagon.

In watching Mr. Gaga, parallels to Matthew Diamond’s 1998 award-winning documentary Paul Taylor Dancemaker begin to emerge both in the way the two films brilliantly reveal their subjects, and in the sometimes eerie similarities between Naharin and Taylor as individuals and artists. Both are tall, imposing dancers, both caught the eye of Graham and joined her company and both at times had tumultuous relationships with their dancers ─ Taylor playing mind games with his dancers and once firing the entire company, and Naharin, recounted by former dancers in the film, having stood in the wings during his New York company’s performances yelling to the dancers onstage that they were boring him and chewing out one of them for “performing” his work. Naharin even admitting to telling his dancers before they went onstage: “Don’t fuck with me my life depends on you.” Perhaps the most telling similarity is in how the two men in each of the respective documentaries, talk about lying to the press. In Dancemaker, Taylor tells of making up a tale about garbage picking an album by The Andrews Sisters as being his inspiration for his work “Company B” while Naharin in Mr. Gaga, tells of inventing a twin autistic brother and how he used dance to communicate with him as his reasoning for taking up dance.

While there may be similarities between the two films and men, Heymann’s film shows there are many more differences. Mr. Gaga touches on Naharin’s New York companies of the 1980s, his first professional choreographic work, a solo using empty pop bottles and a shopping cart entitled “Pas de Pepsi” (1980), his appointment as artistic director of Batsheva in 1990, and his developing his Gaga movement language after back surgery sidelined his performance career. Some of the most revealing and poignant scenes in the film however, involve his relationship with his first wife, former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater star Mari Kajiwara, there meeting, life together and her eventual death at age fifty in 2001 of cervical cancer. The film also briefly touches on his relationship with second wife, and current Batsheva company member, Eri Nakamura with which he has a child.

Throughout Mr. Gaga, Heymann pieces together Naharin’s philosophy on dance, dancers, Gaga, and life in general delivered via several Naharin voiceovers.  One particularly timely passage in response to the title of his 2015 piece “Last Work” has Naharin speaking about Israeli society but could have easily been about how many artists feel nowadays in the United States. He says:  “When I am asked why did I call my last creation ‘Last Work,’ one of the answers that I give is maybe it is my last work since we live in a country that is infested with racists, bullies, lots of ignorance, lots of abuse of power, fanatics… and it reflects on how people choose our government. This government puts in danger not just my work as a creator, it puts in danger the existence all of us here in this country that I love so much. Are we going to be here?”

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Director Tomer Heymann. Photo by Tamar Tal.

Throughout the film we hear the phrase “piece of cake,” which Naharin uses as a mind over matter mantra in overcoming life’s obstacles for him and for others.  In Mr. Gaga, we see very little about Naharin’s life and career was in fact a “piece of cake,” nonetheless unwrapping Naharin, the man and the artist, makes for great theater and one remarkable film.

Abramorama, East Village Entertainment, and Heymann Brothers Films present Mr. Gaga – A True Story of Love and Dance
North American Release Date: February 1, 2017
Run Time: 101:40 Minutes
Rating: Not Rated
Language: English
Official Website: www.mrgagathefilm.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/MrGagaTheFilm
Twitter: www.twitter.com/mrgagathefilm

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

 

 

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Dance Doc ‘Paul Taylor: Creative Domain’ Gets it Right


Dancer Amy Young and Paul Taylor in a scene from Paul Taylor: Creative Domain.

Dancer Amy Young and Paul Taylor in a scene from “Paul Taylor: Creative Domain.”

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

When Matthew Diamond’s Academy Award-nominated documentary Dancemaker, about choreographer Paul Taylor and his company premiered in 1998, the amount of dance films vying for viewer’s eyes was but a shadow of what it is today. From recent documentaries like Jody Lee Lipes’ Ballet 422 and Joseph East’s I Will Dance, to the many dance-on-camera and YouTube offerings as well as live movie theater simulcasts, dance on screen is enjoying a boon.

Now entering the fray is the new dance documentary Paul Taylor: Creative Domain (2014) by Emmy-award-winning documentary producer Kate Geis.

Like the aforementioned Dancemaker, but with a lot less interpersonal drama, the 82-minute Creative Domain centers around the next chapter in dance icon Paul Taylor’s creative life with his company, placing the viewer inside the studio, theater and conversationally opposite Taylor, his staff and dancers as they create “Three Dubious Memories,” the 133rd work of Taylor’s for his company.

Shot in 2010, we seeming stand right next to the gum chewing Taylor as works in the NYC company studios with his dancers. The wheels appear to turn behind Taylor’s blue eyes and wrinkled brow as we watch him quietly move and move with the dancers.

Paul Taylor in a scene from

Paul Taylor in a scene from “Paul Taylor: Creative Domain.”

“I talk as little as possible in the rehearsal, says the now 85-year-old Taylor. “It eats up time. And I remember some rehearsals from other choreographers I have had where a lot of time was spent listening to this gab, this poetic flow, which I found basically not helpful. Balanchine didn’t waste a second.”

Creative Domain is all about the flow of time, from day one of “Three Dubious Memories’” creation to its premiere. We see it informing the way Taylor and his dancers work, the creation of costuming, lighting and the choice by Taylor to invite into the studio and finally meet composer Peter Elyakim Taussig, who created the original music for the work, only after his choreography for the dance work was complete.

“I don’t think of myself as a collaborator,” says Taylor. “I do what I do and then I let them do what they do more or less. The dancemaker really relies on a variety of people who do different things.”

The soft-spoken Taylor is shown as affable, charming, deliberate and calculated. He never wants to show all his cards, even to the dancers he is working work with that by film’s end are as mystified as to the meaning behind some of Taylor’s choreographic choices and as audiences might be.

“Poetry doesn’t always spell everything out, you know. They leave room between the lines,” says Taylor. “A dance can be like that too.”

Dancer James Samson and Paul Taylor in a scene from

Dancer James Samson and Paul Taylor in a scene from “Paul Taylor: Creative Domain.”

Dancers Robert Kleinendorst and Amy Young in a scene from

Dancers Robert Kleinendorst and Amy Young in a scene from “Paul Taylor: Creative Domain.”

In many areas, Creative Domain employs a typical usual insider’s view of things like having the choreographer discuss his process with Taylor talking about his outside influences such as watching football halftime shows and stealing ideas from the works of Antony Tudor, how picky he is about what he wants and what he is aiming for in the new work. We also hear from staff, most notably longtime rehearsal director Bettie de Jong (who reveals that the only work of Taylor’s he vocalized satisfaction with after its premiere was “Esplanade”), costume and set designer Santo Laquasto, lighting designer Jennifer Tipton and of course the dancers, who are humbled in working with Taylor on the new piece, torn up about not doing so, and continue to perpetuate Taylor’s reputation about being stingy in doling out praise and being guarded about letting the dancers into his confidence.

Geis gets it right by choosing an unusual work of Taylor’s to focus on. One that is as close to a literal story ballet as any of his past works. The character’s relationships, their sometimes cartoonish actions, the music, and its idea of reliving the same events of a love triangle from three different emotionally-biased perspectives, is fascinating. She also gets it right by showing virtually the entire finished “Three Dubious Memories” onstage and in costume. So many other dance documentaries fall short by only showing snippets of the work(s) they just spent their entire film scrutinizing.

Paul Taylor Company dancers in a scene from

Paul Taylor Company dancers in a scene from “Paul Taylor: Creative Domain.”

Creative Domain is wonderfully shot by award-winning cinematographer Tom Hurwitz), nicely paced, and insightfully put together. It is as good a window into dance creation as any made for the screen.

Paul Taylor: Creative Domain will be shown at 7 p.m., Fri., Oct. 16 and 1:30 p.m., Sun., Oct. 17. Cleveland Museum of Art’s Morley Lecture Hall, 11150 East Blvd., Cleveland, Ohio. $7-9. (216) 421-7340 or clevelandart.org. For more information and show dates nationwide visit paultaylorcreativedomain.com.

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