Experience has taught us that when choreographer Paul Taylor brings forth a new creation, it is reasonable to expect a dance work of substance, surprise and beguiling ingenuity, among other things. "Arden Court," which had its world premiere in New York earlier this year and which was given its first Washington performance last night, most assuredly filled the bill, and then some.
The occasion was the launching of a second year for the splendid Dance America series, with a week's engagement for the Paul Taylor Dance Company at the Eisenhower Theater as the initiating event.
"Arden Court" was at once the finale and piece de resistance of the first of two programs the troupe will present here. Unlike "Le Sacre du Printemps," the comically iconoclastic version of Stravinsky's masterpiece that Taylor dazzled us with last year, "Arden Court" is in no sense revolutionary. If anything, it reminds us that Taylor can take old-fashioned material and supporting music and turn them into something indisputably fresh, novel and contemporary.
Taylor hates to repeat himself and rarely does so. Yet there are distinct motifs and predilections that run through his work, corresponding to manifold facets of his artistic personality. "Arden Court" is in the line of "Aureole" (1962) and "Airs" (1978) in many respects. Both of those were set to Handel; "Arden Court" uses music by the 18th-century English composer William Boyce--movements from "Symphonies" which are really suites in the Baroque manner, more akin to Handel than Mozart. And like its two predecessors, "Arden Court" is a neo-classical abstraction marked by formal symmetries and a rhythmically pungent, musically dictated exuberance.
The title suggests, as Taylor himself has confirmed, both courtliness and courtship, as well as an atmosphere of woodsy romance, all of which is echoed in the work in sundry ways, from the blue-speckled costumes, to the mammoth rose blossom of Gene Moore's backdrop, to the playful but decorous amorous dalliance that adorns the choreography. Beyond such ephemeral cues, however, there's no literal content -- this is a piece which centers on dancing itself and all the fervor, suspense, wit and dynamism Taylor can so handily bestow upon it. And in terms of sheer virtuosic gusto and daring, nothing like it has been seen since Taylor's own "Esplanade," particularly for the contingent of six males who have the lion's share of the fireworks.
The overall construction shows a classic sense of balance and clarity: an initial fugal allegro for six men is followed by three duets that are separated by a male solo and a male duo; thereafter comes a pair of sections for three couples, another male sextet and a concluding allegro (to the same musical fugue met with in the first section) for all nine dancers. Each segment has its own character and motoric theme, but each is also carefully linked to the others. In the first duet, Carolyn Adams circles Elie Chaib, climbs on his back, surrounds him with scampering steps. In David Parsons' boisterous solo which ensues, Lila York dogs his trail like a shadow. Then in the next duet, as York stretches and strikes poses, it is the man's turn (Robert Kahn) to cavort in circles around her. Christopher Gillis and Daniel Ezralow take turns chasing each other with competitive stunts in the succeeding section. The series of eye-popping overturnings in the penultimate male sextet is expanded in the finale to teamwork in which the three women are spun in mid-air by two men apiece.
For all its immediacy of impact, "Arden Court" isn't, at first sight, quite the stunner some of its forebears have been -- it has neither the drama of "Esplanade" nor the passion of "Airs" nor the formal concision of "Aureole," for instance. It is just a master being masterful, in an idiom he has buffed to a silken gloss. The dancing bore further witness to the astonishing control, vivacity and stamina we have come to know as Taylor company trademarks, though it missed some ultimate spark and had some uncharacteristic moments of technical faltering. One man, Thomas Evert, was out with injuries; replacing him may have been one factor in the insecurity and the Eisenhower's reportedly hard floor may have been another.
Also on the program were "Cloven Kingdom," one of Taylor's amusing essays on the animalian instincts that undergird civilized deportment, and the ever revelatory "Private Domain," with its erotic gambits and obstructed views turning the spectators into peeping Toms.