Paul Taylor Dance Company Dazzles at UW’s Meany Hall
The Paul Taylor Dance Company and Seattle Modern Orchestra perform at University of Washington’s Meany Hall as part of the UW World Dance Series. Remaining performances are on Friday, October 5, and Saturday, October 6, both at 8 p.m.
The Paul Taylor Dance Company brings a dazzling kaleidoscope of movement to the University of Washington this weekend with three performances at Meany Hall. Last night’s show kicked off the weekend’s events and will be followed by performances tonight and on Saturday evening. The three pieces on the program showcase Taylor’s versatility as a choreographer, featuring stunning ensemble and solo work and incorporating music that spans the classical repertoire, ranging from J.S. Bach to contemporary composer Arvo Pärt.
The highlight of the evening was the West Coast premiere of The Uncommitted, a 2011 piece set to Pärt’s music. For this work, the dancers were accompanied by the Seattle Modern Orchestra, led by conductor and founder Julia Tai. The combination of Taylor’s choreography with live music resulted in a performance that positively crackled with energy. In the first half, which features music from Pärt’s Fratres, each dancer emerged from the ensemble to perform a brief solo. These short passages, full of personality, contained some of the most powerful and creative movement of the evening. The solos were perfectly integrated with the musical structure of Fratres, which intersperses sparse string passages with a repeating percussion theme.
The first piece of the evening, Kith and Kin, emphasized interactions between pairs of dancers. The work, set to music by Mozart, recollected partner dances throughout history, from formal European court dances of the 18th century to American country dance traditions. In this lively piece, frolicking couples in white danced intricate patterns around a black-clad “lead couple”, evoking images of subjects performing for a king and queen. Taylor’s choreography blends a ballet foundation with a potpourri of other dance traditions, resulting in an engaging work that invokes the physicality and grace of ballet and the unbridled energy of pure motion.
The evening concluded with Brandenburgs, a work that contrasted male and female movement. Set to excerpts from J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg concertos, this piece is a demanding work full of virtuosic solo and ensemble sections. As the most visually stunning performance on the program, it was utterly captivating, but also hinted at shadowy underlying messages about gender. The piece centers on the interactions between a shirtless male dancer and three female dancers who appear to be performing for him and seeking his approval. The exquisite solos performed by the female dancers perfectly capture the playful sense of joy found in Bach’s music. Yet despite the aesthetic appeal, it’s difficult to escape the subtle ideas behind the work. The male dancer symbolizes power, through his wide stance and slow, measured steps, by the way he gazes at the female dancers approvingly as they whirl around him, rushing to take his outstretched hand. These women have agency and a means of expression, but they still remain subservient to the man.
As one of today’s most influential choreographers, Paul Taylor has inspired a generation of dancers, many of whom have gone on to successful careers in choreography. Over the course of his long career, which began in 1954, he’s produced 136 complete works. New pieces like The Uncommitted demonstrate Taylor’s ability to create works that are fresh, powerful, and utterly contemporary.