Origin Stories at Paul Taylor's American Modern Dance


Nearly 20 years after seeing first seeing the Paul Taylor Dance Company, in high school, with my mom, and more than a decade after officially choosing a dance path (as a presenter and writer, not a dancer), seeing Paul Taylor’s work is often a strange experience of mixed emotions: appreciation for what it meant to me, and the realization that what moved me then doesn’t necessarily penetrate me now. But last night, I found myself moved all over again by “Promethean Fire,” Taylor’s 2002 masterpiece featuring Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue,” which I hadn’t seen in at least a decade and which I might have called, back then, my favorite dance. Widely considered his response to 9/11, the work weaves together beauty and anguish, symmetrical architecture and moments of collapse, moments that make you gasp because of their risk and those that make you gasp because of the haunting simplicity of the image.

Also on the program last night, a series of reconstructed solos by the pioneering grand dame of modern dance, Isadora Duncan, performed by the current grand dame of New York City Ballet, Sara Mearns. It was a nifty – and quite profound – conceit: a top shelf ballerina, known for her precision and virtuosity, embodying the sprightly spirit of the woman who rejected ballet in favor of physical freedom. Mearns interpretation was vital and illuminating. It was a trip and a treat to imagine the work back when it was radical, a rare glimpse into a dance origin story and, with “Promethean Fire,” a look back at one of my own.

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