Mark Taylor and Friends made their Washington debut at the Dance Place last night in a program of Taylor's work. The sheer physical exuberance of it all was rather overwhelming, and the capacity audience showed its appreciation in the most voluble terms. Choreographically, though, the evening left one with the feeling that there can indeed be too much of a good thing.
Taylor, who's based in New York, has been choreographing since 1979 and has toured both in this country and abroad; this spring he'll have showings in both Dublin and Paris. As the present program demonstrated, he's chock-full of movement impulses. Though he doesn't lack for a sense of contrast in dynamics or pace, most of his pieces appear to burst forth in gusts of fast, propulsive, space-devouring movement, with lots of action on all levels, from floorwork to aerial displays. He's also canny about using characteristic motifs or images in a variety of guises and as structural landmarks. And though there isn't much in the way of movement material here that one hasn't encountered elsewhere, Taylor puts it together with a decidedly individual signature.
The difficulty is that he pushes so much at you, either all at once or in prestissimo succession, that nothing really sticks. With a couple of exceptions, the pieces worked wonderfully from moment to moment, but looked very helter-skelter as totalities. You don't notice how scattered they are until they're all over because Taylor's instinct for kinetic continuity is so strong. But through most of the program, the instinct wasn't harnessed to a sufficient organizational or thematic clarity.
One of the exceptions was "From the Archives: Social Dances (Vol. XXI) The Tango," a mock-scholarly lecture-demonstration as a pretext for a spoof of the popular Latin dance form. Taylor got in early on the recent tango craze -- the piece dates from 1984. And this is one work that's effectively unified. But aside from a few inspired passages -- the sudden vampire image that ends a duet, and the seated, clockwork male trio -- it's almost painfully arch, both in its parodistic aspects and in Taylor's verbal text, narrated by a woman named Greeka X. The piece has been seen here before in the repertory of Maryland Dance Theater.
The other exception was another piece from 1984, "Freefall," a rhapsody on the human instinct for flight that plays dazzlingly with hurtling leaps, dives, falls, and skyward reachings. The velocity of entrances and exits is even more breakneck in this context, but the choreography keeps on track, neither letting go of its concept nor running it into the ground.
"Bermuda Shorts," from 1983, also began very promisingly, with a section based on floor rolls in a languid, sensual mood. But like the rest of the pieces, it thereafter dissipated its energies in too many different, unconnected directions. The new "Precinct," for three couples, moves like the dickens, with much pushing, shoving and skirmishing and an interesting solo for "outsider" Jeff Lepore, but it's also eventually very confusing. Similarly, "Ups and Downs in the Rococo," a duet for Washingtonians Donna Gangloff and Mary Williford, doesn't seem to know its own mind, starting with overdone whimsy and going on to a cross between lyricism and sight gags.
The single most constant feature of the program was the excellence of the dancing, from Taylor himself to each of his seven splendidly agile "friends."
As Dance Place artistic director Carla Perlo noted at the outset, this was the last attraction to appear under the Dance Place rubric in its present quarters. As of this weekend, the organization begins its move to Brookland in Northeast D.C., and to, as Perlo put it, "even more growth in the next five years."