Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Esplanade: Part One

August 18, 2010

It's one of those words  -- no descriptor required; to dance what "Michael" is to basketball or "The Great One" is to hockey. It's dance royalty -- the unifying piece of choreography that is so universally adored that people who treasure dance love it and people who have never set foot inside a dance studio or a theater until that moment love it. Human in every way yet subtly so complex that you can study it and study it and study it and discover new layers every time. How often can one say that? 

And on Monday it walked (appropriately enough) into our lives. "Esplanade," one of Paul Taylor's enduring masterpieces, is 35 years old. That makes it older than any of the dancers in the studio who are at this moment immersed in it. Yet it is so fresh it cold have been in process of staging, not re-staging. Taylor is the artist who kept me in dance. Watching his "Last Look" 20 years ago I found a depth and honesty that I think I'd longed for but almost never discovered in the field. The journey that set off continues to this day, and as deeply as I treasure the great choreography we have the pleasure to dance, its constantly Taylor to whom I return. "Esplanade" is our third Taylor work in three years -- something we have never done outside the work I do and our resident choreographers do. The dream of one day doing an all-Taylor program becomes a real possibility now -- "Images," "Last Look" and "Esplanade." Not a bad program....

The Taylor website says this: "An esplanade is an outdoor place to walk; in 1975 Paul Taylor, inspired by the sight of a girl running to catch a bus, created a masterwork based on pedestrian movement. If contemporaries Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg could use ordinary “found objects” like Coke bottles and American flags in their art, Taylor would use such “found movements” as standing, walking, running, sliding and falling. The first of five sections that are set to two Bach violin concertos introduces a team of eight dancers brimming with Taylor’s signature youthful exuberance. An adagio for a family whose members never touch reflects life’s somber side. When three couples engage in romantic interplay, a woman standing tenderly atop her lover’s prone body suggests that love can hurt as well as soothe. The final section has dancers careening fearlessly across the stage like Kamikazes. The littlest of them – the daughter who had not been acknowledged by her family – is left alone on stage, triumphant: the meek inheriting the earth."

A measure of its enduring power lies in the words of New York Times Critic Alistair McCauley, whose 2009 review of it said “'Esplanade,” whose spontaneous joy creates so powerful an impression, has always contained sorrow. And if you examined and described all its fleeting human incidents, you’d have enough material to furnish a novel with multiple plots."

Taylor's website contains this: 

“When I left the theater… I was thinking that I’d seen a classic of American dance. It confers a mythic dimension on ordinary aspects of our daily lives – it’s unfaked folk art. The dancers, crashing wave upon wave into those falls, have a happy insane spirit that recalls a unique moment in American life – the time we did the school play or we were ready to drown at a swimming meet. The last time most of us were happy in that way.” – Arlene Croce, The New Yorker
That it lives now in our universe is something hard for me to take in; a measure of Paul Taylor and all in his world's extraordinary grace, kindness and trust. 

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