Dance Taylor-made for a Mahaiwe crowd

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GREAT BARRINGTON — On Saturday afternoon, in the middle of the Paul Taylor Dance Company's three-show weekend at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, the dancers, recently back from a South American tour, were looking fine. And thus so did the repertoire.

For this visit — the 11th consecutive year the eminent modern dance troupe has performed at the Mahaiwe — the works were all Taylor-made. And it's a thrill that, to my eye, the strongest one on the triple bill — the middle piece, "Concertiana" — is also the newest, having premiered earlier this year. And that's saying a lot, considering that the closer, the 1991 "Company B," has easily stood the test of time as a Taylor classic.

Actually, it was in "Company B" that the afternoon's very few technical bobbles or moments of flagging energy were glimpsed, but such a finely constructed work can withstand an occasional tremor. Snapping their fingers, swiveling their hips, boogie-woogeying to iconic songs sung by the inimitable Andrews Sisters, and costumed in Santo Loquasto's soft slacks, swirling skirts and neatly tucked-in shirts, the 13 dancers seem to step straight out of an old USO show.

"Company B" is infectious, filled with a joyful, toe-tapping energy, but it's not naive. In a reoccurring motif, men, in near-silhouette, travel across the upstage space in stylized slow-motion, either lifting their knees high as if trudging through difficult terrain, or miming shooting at the enemy — or getting shot themselves. The juxtaposition — these stark images upstage, while other dancers are polkaing, galloping, and flirting further downstage — is jarring, purposely so. You can almost ignore these shadow/men, but you'd miss the poetic power of the dance.

The cast was spot-on in their depictions of characters who are optimistic, or yearning, or mourning. Michael Trusnovec was both stoic and majestic in his "Tico-Tico" solo, while in the "Rum and Coca-Cola" section, Eran Bugge was deliciously devastating. By performing their "memory" duet with such understated grief, Sean Mahoney and Heather McGinley rendered it all the more affecting.

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On the other end of the emotional scale was the opener, Taylor's 2011 "Gossamer Gallants," a silly but fetching confection with a fairy-tale like backdrop and attractive, sleek costumes (both by Loquasto) and forest-conjuring lighting by Jennifer Tipton. A group of women portray female insects who bedazzle, then prevail, over a group of male insects. Set to familiar music from Bedrich Smetana's "The Bartered Bride," the series of short scenes serve as a prelude to a kill, essentially: the males cavorting and bonding and psyching themselves up for some hot bug sex; the females preening and plotting. The final image — the men on their backs, the women towering over them — earned cheers, and undoubtedly, it's a great image during this #metoo era, but the stereotypically vampish choreography for the women is hardly progressive. Still and all, the dancers performed the otherwise often-virtuosic movement with skill and vitality, and portrayed their "characters" with commitment. It was, you know, cute.

Oh, but, beautiful is the word for "Concertiana." Set to a striking violin concerto by Eric Ewazen, the dance is a hybrid of pedestrianism — lots of walks and runs and easy-does-it hops — and good old "old-school" modern dance: lots of big side lunges with vee-shaped arms and barrel turns and generous, s-curved arms. An unanswered question seems to hover; the dance is both dreamy and a bit wistful.

Costumed in William Ivey Long's flattering and vivid teal/black-patterned unitards and lit in a rich and lovely palette by James F. Ingalls, the dancers seamlessly transition between that pedestrianism and the more formal choreography. There are some terrific duets — notably the sweeping one for Christina Lynch Markham and Mahoney and the one for the tiny Madelyn Ho and the long, strong Michael Apuzzo in which their physical contrasts are delightfully mined as Ho climbs and jumps and perches high up on Apuzzo's body.

Michael Novak, McGinley, and Alex Clayton have been given gifts of substantial solos, and they return the favor with glorious renderings. Clayton catapults himself up into a sturdy jump and then silkily transitions from the air into a roll on the floor, as if it's all the same step, as if earth and sky are all the same surface. In her enigmatic solo, McGinley crosses and recrosses the stage with a kind of restlessness, sometimes traveling in long slogs on her knees, sometimes whipping around in a series of skimming chass s en tournants.

It was announced about six weeks ago that Novak had been selected by Taylor to be the "artistic director designate" of the company the latter founded in 1954. How to avoid seeing Novak's solo — in which he playfully heel-steps and pivots all the way down from upstage to downstage, eyeing the audience, then crouches down to scoop something invisible up with his palms, lifting them up high — as a winking nod from Taylor? In Novak's hands there may be an offering, or he may be testing the weight of his future.

Janine Parker can be reached at parkerzab@gmail.com


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