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Paul Taylor – Photo by Paul Palmaro

Paul Taylor founded the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 1954 after performing for several years with the Martha Graham company. He is one of a handful of choreographers still living from that extraordinary era of modern dance that included Graham, José Limón, Katherine Dunham, Hanya Holm, Merce Cunningham, Alwin Nicholai, Pina Bausch, Alvin Ailey, Yvonne Rainer, Viola Farber, Twyla Tharp, Anna Sokolow, Glen Tetley, Trisha Brown, and others. Now in his late eighties, Taylor has recently begun to present dance works of the past and some by today’s leading choreographers alongside his still increasing repertoire. Great modern works of the past and outstanding works by today’s leading choreographers are presented alongside Mr. Taylor’s own vast and growing repertoire.

The program presented at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts included three works by Taylor, SYZYGY (1987), THE WORD (1998) and one of his signature dances ESPLANADE (1975). The company is in fine shape and each work highlighted the amazing talents of the cast. They are some of America’s best dance artists.

Rob Latour for The Wallis
Paul Taylor Dance Company in “SYZYGY” – Photo Rob Latour for the Wallis

In Astrology, SYZYGY is defined as “an alignment of three celestial objects, as the sun, the earth, and either the moon or a planet: Syzygy in the sun-earth-moon system occurs at the time of full moon and new moon.”  Taylor’s SYZYGY, performed to music specially composed by Donald York, is a work that is filled with exhausting physicality, ever shifting patterns and pairings. It is accented with brief moments of calm; but never completely still. Madelyn Ho is brilliant in this work and appears to represent the sun, around which all else revolves. She calms the others, only to again send them spinning off in all directions. Another beautiful dancer who commands the stage is Heather McGinley. It is the moments of clear groupings, dancers moving in unison as they splinter off into larger or smaller numbers, that saves this work from appearing too busy. Taylor is a master at directing the audience’s focus.

Paul Taylor Dance Company in “The Word” – Photo Rob Latour for the Wallis

THE WORD is a provocative look at organized religion and the effects that it has on humanity. The entire cast, save one, is dressed identically. The costumes by Santo Loquasto conjure up uniforms worn by young boys attending Catholic boarding schools. The one lone figure, performed wonderfully by Parisa Khobdeh, is made to look totally nude, and for this reviewer, represented both temptation of the flesh and an all punishing God. She moves in to disrupt the serenity of the followers. There is an amazing lift in which one person is held up to represent Christ on the cross that suddenly flips into an inverted cross, that some belief symbolic of atheism, humanism, the occult or worshipers of Satan. Taylor does not go so far as to condemn religion, but he is clearly disturbed by its effects. The music by David Israel and the lighting design by Jennifer Tipton help give this dance its strength.

Paul Taylor Dance Company in “Esplanade” – Photo by Paul B. Goode

ESPLANADE is beautiful because of its musicality, its elegant simplicity and its joyful celebration of dance. Choreographed to music by Johann Sebastian Bach (Violin Concerto in E Major, Double Concerto for two Violins in D Minor [Largo & Allegro], it is one of Taylor’s masterpieces that, after 42 years, never gets old. This present company cast dances it beautifully. The work makes use of walking, jumping, running and, as in the section, dancers making a powerful statement by simply crawling. Michelle Fleet, Madelyn Ho and Michael Trusnovec stand out in this work, but the entire cast are incredible to watch. I have seen this dance performed since my years in New York during the 1970s and the section where the women run and leap into the arms of the men still takes my breath away. It is such a simple action, but one that lifts the spirits of all who see it.

The talented cast of dance artists are Madelyn Ho, Michael Trusnovec, Robert Kleinendorst, Sean Mahoney, Eran Bugge, Francisco Graciano, Laura Halzack, Jamie Rae Walker, Michael Apuzzo, Michael Novak, Heather McGinley, George Smallwood, Christina Lynch Markham, Michelle Fleet, James Samson, Francisco Graciano, Laura Halzack, Kristin Draucker.

The Paul Taylor Dance Company performs at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Arts through Sunday. For information and tickets, click here.

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Jeff Slayton

Jeff Slayton has had a long and influential career as a dancer, choreographer, and educator. Born in Virginia in 1945, Slayton began dancing as a child in order to correct his condition of hip dysplasia. He enjoyed a performance career in New York dancing for Merce Cunningham, Viola Farber and others. In 1978 he moved to Long Beach, CA. where began teaching at California State University, Long Beach as a part time faculty member. He became a full time faculty member in 1986 and continued to teach at CSULB until 1999. Jeff Slayton was one of the faculty members that helped design the Dance Center at CSULB as well as develop and implement the BFA, MFA and MA degree programs. While in Long Beach, he formed his own company, Jeff Slayton & Dancers, that operated from 1978 to 1983. He continues to stage works in the Southern California area. He is also the author of two books, “The Prickly Rose: A Biography of Viola Farber” and “Dancing Toward Sanity”. For more information on Jeff Slayton please go to www.jeffslayton.org.

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