Paul Taylor Dance Company opens its PS/21 program with the breezy and blissful "Airs." (Photos by Ron Thiele)
For decades, the late Paul Taylor has been an entry point for joy and contemplation — creating a space that has been guaranteed to please.
Now, his dances, as performed by his incomparably astute Paul Taylor Dance Company, have expanded their influence, becoming a haven to shield us from the overwhelming ills of our world. And when seen at the beautiful PS/21, an amphitheater that rises on a hill in an orchard, one can’t help but feel that paradise is found.
Consider “Airs,” a work from 1978 that opened Wednesday’s night program at Chatham theater. Set to excerpts from Handel’s uplifting Concerti Grossi, Opus 3, the work brims with a breezy bliss, in which seven dancers fly through the delights and the serenity of heaven.
The ensemble, with Jessica Ferretti as the muse that beckons them forth, is a skipping sculptural delight with dancers moving quickly through patterns that are slightly off-kilter, thus keeping all eyes pinned to their genteel and courtly formations.
Madelyn Ho and Alex Clayton are standouts in the duet in which he holds her aloof as she cartwheels overhead. The first time they do it, it’s breathtaking. But they do it again and again, synchronized in a swirl of legs and fabric that astonishes for its precision and beauty.
Equally thrilling, if not heart-stopping, is the wild “Syzygy,” from 1987. This is an electric dance in which the ensemble of 13 embodies the idea of celestial worlds drawn together by a gravitational pull. The dancers, at first, appear wobbly, shaking out arms, heads and feet in a non-stop trajectory that bounce up, down and all around.
To a strong score by Don York, the work is explosive, constantly surprising as the dancers race, tumble and shutter forwards and backwards across the stage. At one point, couples look to battle for either control or freedom in squirmy aggressive duets. Ultimately, Ho once again holds sway as the others break away and she is left center stage, rotating on one leg, the center of the universe.
The evening also featured “Cloven Kingdom,” Taylor’s 1976 dance that explores social norms that are sometime ritualistic, sometimes lovely, but often ridiculous. Taylor frames it by emphasizing humans are animals, just more dressed up, in this case, in tuxedos and evening gowns.
The group dance for the men, to thundering percussion, is especially memorable as they march, squat, hop, fling their arms about like swords and pound their fists. At the same time, the four monitor each other, a signal to comply as well as to mark their territory. It’s fascinating to watch.
“Cloven Kingdom” ends with a ballroom like setting, couples swirl in mirrored, but blinding masks, reflecting each other’s acceptable behavior without actually seeing/understanding their own.
It’s deep, but highly entertaining. That’s classic Taylor.