Posts Tagged ‘Paco Pena Dance Festival’

The Powerful P’s: Paco Peña and Paul Taylor

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

By Rachel Straus

A dance work that can express a rainbow’s spectrum of emotions is a marvel. More mysterious is that an identical set of motions—done softly and then forcefully—can convey opposite meanings. Last week’s New York performances by Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company (Town Hall, February 24) and the Paul Taylor Dance Company (City Center, February 25) became a dance primer for how emotional interpretations, delivered through a minimal movement vocabulary, effect perception, much like a landscape drenched in sunlight, and then under storm clouds.

Among Paul Taylor’s gargantuan repertory, the most pointed exploration of contrasting emotions is his Polaris (1976). Made the year that the space shuttle named itself The Enterprise (after the Star Trek vessel), this sleek, space-age work takes place in Alex Katz’s cube, which resembles the Star Trek Transporter room.

Polaris is structured in two parts. “Part I” and “Part II” possess the exact same steps. The difference is in the dynamic approach of ten dancers. Like mirror images of each other, they are dressed in Katz’s black and white Mondrian-style briefs (and bras tops for the women).

In “Part I,” the dynamic quality of five dancers is buoyant, energetic, and bubbly. In “Part II” the same steps, as performed by five different dancers, is done with sharp, muscular force and steely expressions. The repetition of steps feels like a trick on the eyes: “Am I really seeing the same dance? It looks so different,” one asks. What is not surprising is that “Part II” is more interesting (and Donald York’s moribund electronic score improves when it is played in a minor key).

Celebrated for his pretty pas de deux and all-American frolicking dances, Taylor is a choreographer who makes consistently engaging works about the dark side. When he paints movement pictures tinged with violence, his work also feels more authentic. This is a subjective statement, but considering how dancers live with hardship (physical and otherwise), it’s an arguable position. Dancers’ bodies experience adversity continuously. They know how to channel it.

Also on the program was the New York premiere of Phantasmagoria. To anonymous Renaissance composers, the dance begins with AnnMaria Mazzini sinking her body into the floor and then slamming her fist like a nail into a coffin. Her serious mood is upended by Amy Young and the cast, dressed as “Flemish villagers,” who hop and skip about like medieval characters in Monty Python’s satire The Meaning of Life (1983).

Taylor’s new work is a lark. Divided into seven sections, it includes comic send-ups of Irish step dancing (as performed flawlessly by the black dancer Michelle Fleet), of an “East Indian Adam and Eve” (whose point of contact is a gargantuan phallus in the shape of a green snake), and of the Isadorables (the fey young dancers trained by Isadora Duncan). The staggering presence of a drunken “Bowery Bum,” as performed by Mr. Kleinendorst, continually destroys the Isadorables practiced mystique of coming from ancient Greece.

Very much an homage to the vaudeville circuit, where performers did anything and everything to get a laugh, Phantasmagoria is minor Taylor, but good Taylor nonetheless. However, the work’s subtitle—“Life, what is it but a dream?”—by Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carol doesn’t hit the mark. Here is a dance better described by Caroll’s opening chapter, “Down the Rabbit Hole.” The tunnel in this case is comprised of dances of the ages.


Then there was the performance of the Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company, which polyphonically pulsated through Town Hall’s cavernous space for one powerful performance. Angel Muñoz performed a flamenco style marked by restraint and the imaginative interpretation of traditional dances learned from his predecessors. Muñoz’s austere quaity is reflective of the historic architecture of Cordoba, which is his hometown and Peña’s.  

Performing along side his wife Charo Espino and the relative newcomer Ramón Martinez, Muñoz’s understated sex appeal and musicality is mesmerizing. Neither a grandstander nor an introvert, Muñoz transformed the rectangular performing space in front of three guitarists (Peña, Paco Arriaga, Rafael Montilla), two vocalists (Inmaculada Rivero, Jesús Corbacho) and one percussionist (Diego Alvarez). As he struck stuck the floor with his feet, encircled his arms, and developed polyrhythms with the musicians, Muñoz’s dancing created a sea of emotions that could be describes as landscapes: Torrential rain, urban grit, mirages.

While Munoz possesses simultaneous ease and unswerving concentration in his body and face, Charo Espino’s presentation of self is more baroque. Her eyes dramatically contract to express her passion. Her stage persona is aggressive, cat like, haughty. However, when Espino sat next to Peña and a duet between her castanets and his guitar ensued, she dropped her dramatics to focus on her rhythmic chops, which are masterful. Like Martinez, who pulled off five elegant pirouettes, Espino’s talent is undeniable. It’s her approach, and some of her dresses, which are unnecessarily flashy.

The evening ended with singer Inmaculada Rivero dancing an improvised, playful encore for the company. Without the instruments accompanying her footwork, it was one of the few times where a dancer’s sound was not drowned out by the cajon. Perhaps the World Music Institute, which presented the company, will mike the floor next time, so that these powerful dancers can not only be seen but also heard.