Motion that stirred emotions

Dance display

Artistic : ‘Paul Taylor 2’ in action in Kolkata.  PHOTO Kathakali Jana

“Dancers must illuminate the stage,” says Ruth Andrian, director of Paul Taylor 2, the US modern dance company that was recently in India on an American Centre-sponsored tour of the country. Watching their performance in Kolkata, the correspondent was dazzled by the light radiated by the performers on stage. It was a radiance that lit up the soul.

For the dance that unfolded on stage that evening was motion as much as it was emotion, technique as much as freedom, mundane as much as out-of-the-world. Complex psychological issues were handled with ease, bringing into sharp focus the realities of post-modern existence, while Taylor’s movement vocabulary was one of unfettered beauty and richness. It was of a kind that one doesn’t see too often, the last time being when the Paul Taylor Dance Company visited India in 1997.

Trained in classical ballet as well as the Martha Graham style (Taylor studied dance directly under her), his idiom is entirely his own. A touch painterly — for the legendary dancer and choreographer is a painter too — it fills the performance space with characters, shapes, feelings, colour and texture. “Taylor sees the stage as a canvas,” explains Andrian, who has reworked some of Paul Taylor’s masterpieces so that the smaller ensemble of dancers of Paul Taylor 2 can travel across the world and dance at smaller venues where the full team of 16 cannot perform.

It was left to Andrian and the seven sterling young dancers of the company to reveal a bit of what Taylor’s style is all about. The outfit performed three masterly exemplars of
Taylor’s ground breaking work, of which the first was the sprightly ‘Arden Court’.

“It’s a celebration of perfect love,” said Andrian, while introducing the piece set to baroque music. Taking off from the joyous overtones of the Forest of Arden in which much of the action of Shakespeare’s great comedy, As You Like It, takes place, it is a dance piece that explores the ecstasy of courtship. An eloquence of the body that sometimes prompts the viewer to liken it to the wind, renders a joyful quality to the dance. It was as happy as could be, with the young lovers often tossing themselves into the air, waif-like, and nearly “flying” on stage.

But ‘Runes’, the next piece, blotted all semblance of happiness out of the mind as it indulged in Shamanistic after-life rituals. It was almost spooky to witness the rites that were inspired by those observed in the pre-Christian Celtic society of Druids, complete with floating bodies and spectral creatures. “The exquisite gestures of the hands in ‘Runes’ reminds you of the Indian dances,” says Andrian. The fluidity of the hand movements certainly sets this dance piece apart, as much as its darkness of tone.

Deeply atmospheric, ‘Runes’ is memorable in its creation of intense ritualistic movements. The dancers constantly manipulate each other’s bodies, almost as though they were playing some dark game with one another. Their group energy in this piece is astonishing. One of the dancers actually throws herself at another, who catches her just inches before she is about to touch the floor in a miraculous movement pattern. “The irregularity of the music enhances the feeling of the dark forces at work,” points out Andrian.

Taylor is obviously a master of moods as the last piece,‘Esplanade’, is all about exuberance expressed through dynamic movement patterns. The symphonic quality of Bach’s double concerto, the musical support for this piece, inspired Taylor to produce one of his most celebrated works in the 1950s, which explored his postmodern roots. There is much happy gliding, leaping, running and even some crawling on the floor in ‘Esplanade’, which has a tender core.

“Taylor had actually seen a woman run for her life on the streets of New York,” says Andrian, explaining the genesis of this piece. And sure enough, there’s a woman running crazily through its entire length. But there’s a lot more to the piece. A dysfunctional family, whose members fail to touch each other even as they try, gives ‘Esplanade’ its warmth amid the high spirits. The section ends with a joyful reunion when the women are carried by the men. “Taylor’s work is very romantic. He is a sculptor who sculpts with the bodies of the dancers. He is a poet who connects with his audience. He supplies a lot of information, gestures and postures, so that the audience can create its own connections,” says Andrian.

Invited to make those connections, the audience at his shows in India were often struck by his powerful vocabulary that transformed the ordinary to the extraordinary. The movements, abstract, elegant and beautiful, acquired lives of their own. And the dancers, for all their fluidity, suppleneness, vigour and elasticity of body, became part of a potent communiqué.

When the full stage lights came back and the dancers took their final bow, one was startled by the realisation that they were full-fledged human beings and not creatures of the wind.

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