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ON THE SCENE: Paul Taylor Dance Company reconnects with Placid

July 6, 2017
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

Forty years ago, the Paul Taylor Dance Company was wrapping up its fourth summer residency in Lake Placid wherein one of the leading choreographers of modern dance developed new repertoire in the ambiance of this Adirondack village.

On Saturday night, July 1, following a 28-year absence, the company returned to a thunderous welcome that rocked the rafters of the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. The company didn't disappoint. Magic was in the air.

Paul Taylor, 87, is the only one of the masters of modern dance still creating new dances. While he did not travel north with the company, rehearsal director Bettie De Jong did, reconnecting with friends who had hosted them in the past, such as Lex Dashnaw and George Pappastavrou, who provided a dinner for the company at their Fletcher Farm Ridge home each summer they were in residence.

Article Photos

Dancers Michael Apuzzo, Heather McGinley and George Smallwood pose Saturday, July 1 at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

"It was wonderful," said Dashnaw. "Every summer they came out to the farm for a party. It was always on a Sunday afternoon. We got to know all of them very well."

"I used to serve them Diet Cokes and hot dogs when I worked at the Custard and Mustard, and they stayed at the motel next door," said Jon Prime.

"All the food Taylor didn't want them to have," said Dashnaw.

John Huttlinger attended the July 1 concert, bringing with him a flier for their 1973 residency performances and memories of the company's music director working late into the night on the family's piano.

"It was a very memorable summer," said Huttlinger. "We got to know a lot of the dancers. It's terrific to see the company perform again. I can't remember which year, but they premiered a dance called 'Runes.' They needed a place and piano where they could play and tape the music. My parents had a recently tuned piano. It seemed they were up half the night taping the music for the dance which opened the following evening. It was pretty neat. Of course, we didn't have the energy to stay up, so we went to bed, and I remember waking up in the middle of the night and could hear the music still playing."

The company was launched in 1954 when Paul Taylor, then 24, and five other dancers first presented his choreography in Manhattan. Nearly 150 works later, Taylor is still creating vibrant dance reflecting the human condition with all its complexity. Three major pieces were developed in the Northwood School gym during the three summers they were in residency, and their last performance in Lake Placid was 28 years ago.

The company has a difficult schedule as Taylor is committed bringing modern dance and his work to communities and venues large and small the world over. To date, they have performed in more than 520 cities in 64 countries and represented the United States in more than 40 international festivals.

Over half their performances each year are in the U.S., and in between March 2004 and November 2005, they marked their 50th anniversary by performing in all 50 states.

"Paul Taylor is a living legend of modern dance, one of the few left alive who created this indigenous art form," said dancer Michael Apuzzo. "Our colleagues and we are lucky enough to carry on the tradition."

"In ballet, often the storyline is perhaps a fairytale, something not of this earth, and the women often dance on their toes, they appear not to even be on the ground," said dancer Heather McGinley. "Modern dance is a rebellion against that idea. We're most often barefoot. We are human people that stand on the earth. The movement quality is much more weighted. The subject matter can be about almost anything, but you are more likely to find it about the human experience."

"Modern dance was born out of the industrial revolution," said dancer George Smallwood. "The early pioneers were focused on bringing dance down to earth and exploring humanity. For me, dance is core to who I am. I started dancing when I was three. I'm a very kinesthetic learner. I have trouble sitting still. I grew up in theater and dance. I respond to the interactions and relationships, drama and simplicity of people moving together in dance."

"For all of us, dance is a passion," said Apuzzo. "It's a must do. You can't not have it in your life. In a way, dance chooses you. We get hooked into dance, and we have to do it despite all the adversity that comes with the industry and profession. You'll find a way to do it, and Paul Taylor is at the top of that passion. We sought this company out because we want to dance with this choreographer."

"Dance is part of who I am, I can't imagine doing anything else," said McGinley.

Dance they did. The company presented three pieces, "Aden Court," a classic first performed in 1981 that explores platonic and romantic relationships, then "Lines of Loss" (2007), one of Taylor's darkest pieces, and the uplifting "Promethean Fire" (2002).

Dan Plumley was struck by Taylor's use of space. Commenting on "Arden Court," he said, "You're hit with the physicality of the dancers. They created a kaleidoscope of space wherein even the negative space between the dancers is transformed and energized. The whole stage was taken over. It was phenomenal."

"I think these guys are wonderful," said Sue Smith, remembering the company from their residency. "They were here for four summers. You felt that you knew them. What I am noticing more now is the complicated choreography that maybe in the '70s I wasn't seeing, but I am now."

"It was magical," said Carrol Pinney.

"I am sad that we could only be here one evening," said De Jong.

Hopefully, they will back sooner next time. In the meantime, the LPCA has a terrific line up of dance this season that includes the return of Alvin Ailey II. Special is the intimacy of the venue; you see the emotions on the dancers' faces and hear the sound of them landing. Plus you can meet them after the performance. That's not an option at the Lincoln Center.

As for them, as dancer Alex Clayton said, "I got to go kayaking after our rehearsal!"

That, too, is not possible in New York.



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