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Paul Taylor Dance Company Review: The Art of Elegance

The dancers of the Paul Taylor Dance Company perform "Company B."
The dancers of the Paul Taylor Dance Company perform "Company B." By Courtesy of Ron Thiele
By Maria F. Cifuentes, Crimson Staff Writer

As the yellow curtain lifted and the lights slowly dimmed at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre, the audience beamed with enthusiasm awaiting the worldly- renowned Paul Taylor Dance Company, which hadn’t returned to Boston since before the pandemic in 2013. Pastel paint strokes hung from the ceiling adorning the stage, creating a vibrant and lively atmosphere even before the dancers leaped onstage. Suddenly, a saxophone tune broke through the silence and dancers wearing colorful costumes began to appear, signifying the start of a memorable night.

This performance, which ran from April 14 to April 16, featured two of Paul Taylor’s most popular works, 1998’s “Brandenburgs” and 1991’s “Company B,” as well as Amy Hall Garner’s recently commissioned piece “Somewhere in the Middle.” Taylor’s brilliant choreography created a blend of light and dark themes, carried out through seamless movements and intimate interactions between the dancers, weaving together a storyline that tugged at the heart.

Although Garner’s choreography shined on its own, the performance still managed to preserve Taylor’s timelessness. As the dancers floated across the stage with a childlike wonder and brilliant facial expressions in a fusion of athleticism and elegance to the sound of upbeat, vibrant jazz music, the performance took off with a captivating start. The dancers filled the theater with cheerfulness as they leapt, turned, jumped, and landed gracefully. The swift and rigorous movements contrasted with the dancers' gleeful faces and high-spirited hand gestures, making the dance all the more exciting: Truly, there was never a dull moment. The energetic choreography included soloists, partners carrying one another while one spun, and dancers who chased each other from the sides of the stage. There were even little surprises throughout the performance that caused the audience to erupt in laughter; a kiss on the cheek, waves towards the crowd, and snapping. The dancers executed perfect movements in a synchronized manner, but there also seemed to be a sense of freedom in their step, as if the dancers were letting the music guide them. Joyfulness radiated off the stage onto the audience, causing them to sway in their seats to music by Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, Duke Ellington, and Bill Evans among others.

After the fascinating first act, the curtains lifted to reveal a darker scene where the dancers wore green velvet costumes with gold detailing. The atmosphere shifted from cheerful to poignant as the dancers walked softly to a beautiful string and piano melody. The second act performance of “Brandenburgs” evoked a sense of internal struggle and agony through powerful, precise, and efficient movements. A story of deep pain and anguish came through in the strenuous and vigorous athletic jumps, with the structured movements maintaining a flow to it all. John Harnage delivered a moving and emotional solo dance under a spotlight. Against a dark background that simulated a void, Harnage stood out with his classic ballet movements and heartbreaking facial expressions. As he managed to stay in one place while he spun and dropped to the ground, he gifted the crowd with an astonishing performance. To the music of the concertos of Johann Sebastian Bach, with a tempo that started slow and gradually sped up, the ensemble carried out a formal, synchronized, and linear performance. Furthermore, their ability to make a physically demanding choreography appear elegant and effortless was truly magnificent. The dancers Eran Bugge, Madelyn Ho ’08, Lee Duveneck, Alex Clayton, Devon Louis, Maria Ambrose, Shawn Lesniak, and Jake Vincent created something marvelous out of dark chaos with regal stances and smooth sprints across the stage.

Paying homage to Taylor’s brilliance and unmatched creativity, the full cast flooded the stage for “Company B,” with ten musical selections covered by the Andrews Sisters. The dancers shimmied, tapped their feet, and dipped their partners with wide smiles that radiated a spirit of joy. Set in the 1940s, the female dancers wore long flowing skirts and pants, white collared shirts, and red headbands, while the male dancers wore khaki pants and red belts. The music was uplifting and full of swing, but there was a stark contrast in the story being told through the movements. While the spirits were high, the dance forced the audience to grapple with the disheartening reality of a nation at war, death and loss haunting those home and abroad.

Once more, Harnage mesmerized the audience with his powerful leaps and charming ways as he danced to the tune of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” What at first appeared to be an upbeat and carefree performance in which Harnage let the music take control of his body eventually turned bone-chilling as it ended with another dancer being shot behind him. Similarly, the duality of light and dark was portrayed in the romantic and pain filled pas de deux performed by dancers Ambrose and Louis. The song “There Will Never Be Another You” was a sudden shift to a soft piano tune and melancholy singing. Notably, the dancers mirrored each other’s movements but never quite touched; at the same time, they moved in slow motion while shadows of men passed by. The dance ended on a heart-wrenching note as Ambrose rushed to Louis’ legs, holding on with all her might, only to be abandoned, leaving the audience with a distraught and empty feeling.

As the night came to an end, the full cast danced to the same song with which they opened: “Company B.” The lights shone brightly, as the cast snapped their fingers and spun in unison with an enchanting passion once more. But as the lights dimmed, a mournful look replaced their once joyful smiles, signifying that suffering had changed the world. The Paul Taylor Dance Company left the audience completely stunned and in awe of the emotional journey it took them on, abundant with vitality and touching on human emotion.

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