At Paul Taylor, the Music Calls for a Dance. The Men Respond. – US 247 News


It’s not a race, but Lauren Lovette seems to be running, not walking, to create a body of work for the Paul Taylor Dance Company. Last year, after becoming Taylor’s resident choreographer, she presented two new works; this week, as part of the Taylor season at Lincoln Center, she added two more, including the world premiere of “Echo” on Thursday. It’s her finest offering yet.

Before any dancing began, the orchestra pit rose to eye level and the members of the string trio Time for Three began to vocalize; soon, the harmony and quiet strength of their voices cast a spell over the David H. Koch Theater.

Dancers, all men, mainly bare chested, began a gliding procession toward the stage, migrating along all the pathways of the theater — the sides, the aisles. This kind of offbeat entrance isn’t exactly new to dance, but Lovette used it in a meaningful way: It was almost primal, as if the music were calling for the dance. One couldn’t exist without the other in this artistic reverberation or, as she named it, echo.

As the dancers tore across the stage, with a spinning Shawn Lesniak in the center, and the music swelled, the scene, full of sincerity and passion, came to resemble something like “I Sing the Body Electric” from “Fame.” As the pit lowered, the Time for Three musicians remained standing in the center and they remained visible throughout the work, though not intrusively, as they bowed and plucked their way through Kevin Puts’s “Contact” alongside the Orchestra of St. Luke’s.

Throughout, James F. Ingalls’s lighting altered the color and dimension of the backdrop, which rose and lowered, and the costumes, featuring layered, airy skirts by Zac Posen, carried the afterimages of movement as the dancers soared across the stage with churning speed. There were quick surprises: The sight of wide open arms could very well lead to a somersault.

Within this landscape, Lovette explores not just one side of maleness but its breadth, creating galvanizing patterns that build community through feverish footwork, off-balance tilts and jumps that seemingly shoot out of nowhere. “Echo” falters in its third movement, “Contact,” an extended duet for Lee Duveneck, athletically regal in a halter dress, and Kenny Corrigan, in which aggression and longing are laid bare.

Duveneck spirals into the air in a sequence of jumps, his arms and feet flailing, until he lands in a heap. Corrigan, waving an arm over his body, brings him back to life, but as the push and pull between them drones on, it’s hard to connect the dots.

In the final part, “Convivium,” the full cast returns and the music drives more brightly as dancers, spinning in pairs, hook their elbows before grabbing hands with fully extended arms. In the final seconds, all but Lesniak, a beacon somehow, crouch at the front of the stage. The orchestra pit rises again as the dancers freeze on these warriors who possess both brawn and heart.

Perhaps the best measure of a resident choreographer is her ability to grow alongside the company’s dancers, and Lovette, even with her ballet background — she was a New York City Ballet principal — is getting there. She and the Taylor dancers are similar: Emotionally, physically — they don’t hold back. On Wednesday, the company gave the New York premiere of her “Dreamachine,” a long-held dream of her own. Even before she became Taylor’s resident choreographer, she told Michael Novak, the company’s artistic director, that she had an idea for this dance.

Set to Michael Daugherty’s lively four-movement percussion concerto, inspired by inventors and their machines — a concept that Lovette follows, too, along with his section titles — the dance dips in and out of different scenes while hinting at current concerns: How can technology harm as well as help? How dangerous are influencers when they turn their followers into sheep?

Dominated by sets and costumes by Santo Loquasto, “Dreamachine” is less a coherent dance than a collection of ideas — some energizing, some tedious. It may be an idea that Lovette outgrew, though parts are endearing, particularly in the first two sections, which touch on the imagination of invention and play.

In the opening “Da Vinci’s Wings,” the dancer Kristin Draucker arranges other performers — whose faces are obscured by helmets, their robotic bodies and encased in black and silver — into machine-like structures. But her experiments aren’t built to last. As soon as she completes a human sculpture, it crashes to the floor. Over time, Jennifer Tipton’s lighting fills the stage with shadows, which engulf Draucker as she disappears into a wing.

In “Rube Goldberg’s Variations,” five dancers, wearing brightly colored jumpsuits, zip across the stage with the help of props including a large ball, a stepladder attached to a wheelbarrow and a skateboard. In this odd game of Mouse Trap, the cast pairs agility with absurdity amid flying and rolling balls.

But the third section, “Electric Eel,” a duet for Jessica Ferretti and Corrigan fades as it goes along. The slippery sensation of gliding takes on an obvious form when Corrigan enters wearing Heelys, a type of sneakers with wheels, and transforms the stage into something of a skating rink. Soon the duet descends into choreographic lethargy.

For the finale, “Vulcan’s Forge,“ a bare chested Devon Louis leads the cast members, who wear olive jumpsuits and dark sunglasses (yes, and oh dear), through myriad formations as if they were some sort of galactic army under his command. It is energetic, yet straining for meaning.

“Dreamachine” isn’t a waste: If you ignore the costumes and the set, the first movement shows Lovette melding the sensuous flow of her movement with the Taylor company’s more earthbound vocabulary. Still, when her dances are seen next to Paul Taylor’s, they can’t help but pale in sharpness and in structure. Over two nights, there were Taylor’s “Eventide” (1997), with its crystalline walking patterns; “Mercuric Tidings” (1982), a joyful, structurally dynamic spectacle; and “Esplanade” (1975), a thrilling twist on pedestrian movement.

In “Esplanade” and “Mercuric,” Madelyn Ho was utterly distinct, the brightest of lights. In the aftermath of the pandemic and now, she has been transformed, dancing with such a plush blend of vivacity and speed that she is a reminder: It’s always possible to rise higher, to burn more brightly. And she reminds me of how best to think about Lovette. She’s growing, give her time.

Paul Taylor Dance Company

Through Nov. 12 at the David H. Koch Theater;