Paul Taylor's "Offenbach Overtures" offers silly sentiments. Credit: Paul B. Goode Paul Taylor's "Offenbach Overtures" offers silly sentiments.
Credit: Paul B. Goode

Paul Taylor’s opening night at Lincoln Center primarily evoked exasperation. The last modern-dance master standing, Taylor boasts a troupe of superlative performers and witty designers, but the material onstage was mostly lightweight.

The gala bill mingled samples from early to new works. The recorded music (Bach, New Orleans jazz, Heinichen, Offenbach) sounded a bit tinny on the speakers at what used to be the New York State Theater; its original tenants always worked with live orchestras.

The show opened with “Junction,” an athletic piece from 1961 designed by painter Alex Katz. To a transcendent Bach cello suite, eight dancers in color-block leotards tumbled and strode across the large stage; sometimes a woman balanced precariously on the body of a crouched man. The juxtaposition of sleek physicality with the somber tones of the music was groundbreaking in its day.

 

Taylor’s legendary “3 Epitaphs” is set to New Orleans funeral-march jazz. In dark leotards and helmets that totally obscured their faces, five dancers shrugged and shambled and leaned on one another, striking odd, simian poses that might be construed, if one were feeling testy, as racist portrayals. The outfits sported tiny round mirrors on gloved hands and heads; this 1956 work prefigures later, better dances in which mirrors also flash light into viewers’ eyes.

The pastoral “Perpetual Dawn” is a new piece that set peasants gamboling in a meadow. For the most part men pursued maidens, though a couple of guys did hold hands and Michelle Fleet often found herself alone. We’ve seen this structure and these sentiments before from Taylor.

The jokey “Offenbach Overtures” completed the program. Twenty-one dances are showing this season, including Taylor’s unique take on Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.”

If you go
Paul Taylor Dance Company
Through March 24
David H. Koch Theater
Columbus Avenue at 63rd Street,
$10-$160, www.ptdc.org

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