At intermission, almost the entire audience left the auditorium. The outside terrace area was unusually full until the last curtain call for the second ballet, Esplanade, with patrons pulling off their masks and many imagining what Esplanade would deliver. Masks back on, all seats filled once again, with several audience members snapping photos of the curtain as it rose, the violins began, and the stage erupted with color and feverish, frenetic movement.
Pops of purple, pink and coral dotted the primarily orange palate of costuming – costuming that was natural and successful in both pieces – setting a tone alongside Bach’s Violin Concerto in E Major and Double Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor (Largo and Allegro).
The complete staging evoked the power of shared movement and life in public places, as Taylor had intended. The audience had clearly missed such sharing on a public stage, and the dancers responded, offering a powerful opening to the second half that was much more controlled and precise than Company B.
The joy of Taylor’s signature ‘found movements’ was replete in the company’s partnership and pace in this now classic modern dance composition first inspired, so the story goes, by a girl running to catch a bus. Following the mire of quarantine and social and political unrest, nine dancers helped the audience to laugh and smile and explore in ways as fresh today as they were in 1975.
Ideas of gender and challenging normative standards were bright and current. As the other five female dancers donned dresses, Christina Lynch Markham wore light, form-fitting pants while anchoring several passes and partnerships around her tall, stoic stance. Her anchor served as a vivid reminder that Paul Taylor choreography takes up space and inverts expectations of intersections between dancers and traditional, classical ballet roles.
Powerful pas de deux inversions were exciting and controlled throughout this Esplanade. Overall, the dancers were comfortable and, when in multiple pairings, were in unison. The lifts were exciting and, overall, well sustained. Cavaliers on the ground, ballerinas adroit and strong and angled as outward extensions in a unison of form – for this reviewer, that’s where the real talent and control conveyed.
This ballet is a masterpiece of stylized walking and running and motion that defines modern ballet with the requirement that dancers never lose connection with the floor. These dancers were aware of that necessity, maintaining it even through the longing gazes that drive the stories. Those gazes solidify connection via chance meetings through motion in public spaces and connect the audience to the shared human condition.
What a perfect message for a masked audience required to show proof of vaccination for admission. And what perfect counters, these two works highlighting the form of Taylor’s vision in Esplanade after opening with the nostalgic, haunting social study of Company B. The stories in both ballets served as excellent bookends of loss and hope to initiate the Center’s much-anticipated opening.
Time and training and playing to live audiences can only bolster the authentic care for the craft that these dancers brought to The Kennedy Center’s reopening. Finding the tickets and time for any upcoming Paul Taylor Dance Company performance is well worth the effort, as good times and growth seem clearly on the horizon for upcoming performances of the company’s canon.