Paul Taylor Dance Brings Sparkling, Sardonic Works to the Spreckels

As generations of lean dancers and educators flooded the Spreckels Theatre on Saturday night, admiration for choreographer Paul Taylor and his accomplished company was obvious.  They had connections and stories to tell.


A woman recalled a tense audition when Taylor asked her and 500 hopefuls to walk across a room. A woman from England described performing his work and his sarcastic sense of humor.


People with two left feet also knew they would connect with history.

There was a sense of almost touching Taylor’s long arms, and those he had touched.

Paul Taylor Dance Co. Head pieces and masks by John Rawlings highlight Taylor’s signature work “Cloven Kingdom.” Image courtesy LJMS.

Paul Taylor Dance Co. in “Arden Court.” Photo courtesy LJMS.


Now 87, Taylor is one of the most influential modern dance choreographers. First a painter and a swimmer, he went on to dance with the legends Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, Doris Humphrey, George Balanchine, and Martha Graham.


The program of three dances, opened with Arden Court (1981), a joyful work filled with airy leaps with heads tipped back and skittering feet. Feather-light women ran over and under giant men like puppies. They created a blur of rotating arms.


Polka dots painted on nude-colored skins and a giant flower backdrop, designed by Gene Moore, made their circular court dances mythical and  playful. The most memorable image evoked cut out paper dolls. Six men lined up with arms connected overhead, except for one in a handstand.  The music, William Boyce’s Excerpts from Symphonies 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, was recorded.



In contrast, Changes (2008) was set to recorded songs sung by The Mamas and the Papas. Dancers had a flashback to the 60s. They pony hopped and swiveled to songs such as “Straight Shooter,” and “California Dreamin.’” Set and costumes by Santo Loquasto were stereotypical bell bottoms and fringe. Please, who wants to go back to bib overalls?

Paul Taylor Dance Co. in “Changes.” Photo courtesy LJMS.


A program note commented on the era of radical change, and “rejecting politicians’ fear mongering and their disastrous war in Vietnam…”


While we can assume many in the LJMS crowd lived through the era, some didn’t fully appreciate the politics, or blur spin and exquisite unison at the end.


Many in my row were aching to see Taylor’s signature work Cloven Kingdom (1976) known for hoofy hands and mirrored headpieces, giant barrel turns in the air and other Graham influences.  But they were also belly aching about John Herbert McDowell’s clanging arrangement (of music by Arcangelo Corelli, Henry Cowell, and Malloy Miller) and Taylor’s irony.


The brilliant Men’s Quartet featured a special live percussion performance by San Diego favorite red fish blue fish, conducted by Steven Schick.  The live performance was part of “It’s About Time,” a festival and partnership with the San Diego Symphony.

Paul Taylor Dance Co. The Men’s Quartet in “Cloven Kingdom.” Photo courtesy LJMS.


The men dressed in long tailed tuxedos whirled and balanced on their heads.


Along with the powerhouse of energy from dancers, convulsive women in evening gowns, and men shaking fists before pirouettes, Schick’s sharp elbows and direction from the pit was a highlight of the piece, and it was too brief. We longed to hear more booming and snapping sounds, and more triangle tings (Fiona Digney).


Cream, silver, black, pink, and green, the women’s costumes, by Scott Barrie, had a metallic shine and flow. Most stunning and iconic were the head pieces, by John Rawlings. Mirrored circles and squares made the women appear as royalty one minute, and chess pieces the next.


Mr. Taylor would be pleased to know how many people trotted out of the theater with hoofy hands, and how they discussed the primitive nature of people hiding under a layer of sophistication as they lined up to retrieve their parked cars. Mission accomplished, sir.

Grace Notes:

The LJMS Dance Series continues with Mark Morris Dance Group:  Pepperland. May 12, 2018 @ 8:00 pm, a tribute to the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.









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