Paul Taylor Dance Company 2010

The Taylor company opened its one-night visit to the D.C. suburbs with Brandenburgs (1988), a last-minute replacement for the planned Also Playing. This is one of Taylor’s lovely pieces that achieve such stunning effects with simple gestures—a group of dancers executing simple two-foot turns while rotating in circle, but blindingly fast. Certain of the stage pictures look stylized and flattened, as if Taylor was looking back to an even more distant classical period, his dancers glazed onto the surface of a Greek krater. There’s a ankle-shake ornament that the women do that’s an answer to the musical accompaniment (movements from the J.S. Bach Brandenburg Concertos), sort of a choreographic mordent.

We received the first Washington performance of Phantasmagoria, set on compositions from the Renaissance period, a stew of folk dance and bawdy hijinx wrapped around a poison mushroom of death. Signature Taylor is a dance for four men who comically fail to execute cleanly: as the bumping and shoving degrades into fisticuffs, this bransle has become a genuine brawl. Less effective is another Taylor trope, the Bowery Bum who provides the piece with its second ending.

The evening closes with the powerful Beloved Renegade (2008), inspired by writings of Walt Whitman and scored by passages from François Poulenc’s Gloria. The dance was commissioned in memory of James Harper Marshall by his family. For the most part, this is the Whitman of “The Wound Dresser,” the poet of somber joy who found a path to glory amid the world’s suffering and pain. By turns balletic and vernacular, the piece is a celebration of the mystery of life. Laura Halzack is majestic as the spirit who eventually carries away Michael Trusnovec’s poet in “the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding death.”

  • Paul Taylor Dance Company, Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, Vienna, Va.