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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Paul Taylor's Sick and Twisted Mind


Yesterday I saw possibly the most disturbing, creepy dance I have ever seen in my life. It was Paul Taylor's Big Bertha. I can't really describe it except to say it starts as an amusement park spectacle, with this tinkly amusement park music and a seemingly normal family dancing onstage. There is a mechanical doll named Big Bertha and the family innocently stops at the doll. But soon the doll (played by Amy Young) starts commanding them to darker and darker actions, and it climaxes in the father (Michael Trusnovec) raping the daughter (Eran Bugge). The mother (Michelle Fleet) starts doing a frantic striptease for Big Bertha, who still is not satisfied. Big Bertha is not satisfied, in fact, until the whole family is sprawled onstage, lifeless.

At the end of the performance, a slight, unassuming man came onstage to take a curtain call with the dancers. Paul Taylor still looks handsome, and one could hardly believe the guy with the shy smile is capable of such a sick, twisted dance. But earlier, his House of Joy was equally dark -- it's hardly a dance since there's no dancing to speak of. Just a parade of whores and johns outside a seedy whorehouse. There was no lightening of prostitution, as there often is in entertainment -- the usually beautiful dancers were dressed in full hooker gear, with the awful stiletto shoes and cheap lingerie. I didn't know what to make of the "dance" at all -- it couldn't have lasted for more than 8 minutes and as I said, contained no dancing whatsoever.

Thankfully these dances were sandwiched by more "crowdpleasing" fare. Cloven Kingdom is a Paul Taylor classic and it's a fun battle-of-the-sexes piece. The most amazing moment of Cloven Kingdom is an extended sequence in which the four men are decked out in formal suits but asked to perform a series of almost acrobatic stunts over each others' bodies. The women are decked out in long formal looking dresses too but they too are tough and acrobatic. It's not the innocent world of Esplanade, where the men cradle the women like children. And the program ended with Piazzolla Caldera, which takes place in a seedy nightclub. It's set to tango music, and the men and women, and, in one case, two men, partner up and start to dance. Even though there are few actual tango moves, Taylor has the sexual tension, competition, and melancholy of the tango down pat. The dancers again looked like natural ballroom dancers. It's certainly better than anything they put on Dancing With the Stars.