I went to see the Paul Taylor Dance Company on Saturday night. On the program was a piece I’d never seen before, although so many ballet companies perform it: the lovely and amusing Company B.
Anyone who has seen the Taylor company perform knows how heavily his choreography is influenced by classical ballet. His dancers also have extensive ballet backgrounds, and many of them performed in ballet companies before joining PTDC. Therefore, it came as no surprise to me that Company B was so balletic, but after the performance I thought a lot about why so many ballet companies, including Miami City Ballet and ABT, have it in their repertories. I think the answer is that not only do the steps feel good on ballet dancers’ bodies, the structure of the piece also makes sense to their ballet-trained brains.
I think it’s safe to say that most classical ballet pieces follow a certain pattern: The piece as a whole has different sections, clearly separate from one another, and the ratio of male to female dancers is fairly predictable. The pairings of men and women are traditional, and there are usually several solos, with more masculine movement for men, and more feminine movement for women. Such is also the case with Company B, which is set to songs by the Andrews Sisters. There were womens’ and mens’ solos, pas de deux (man/woman), and ensemble dances. The order of the dances was also balletic: start with an ensemble piece featuring the whole cast, then move on to solos, pas de deux, and smaller groups, and then finish with another full cast section. I particularly enjoyed Company B because I felt like I could have danced it too, it looked so familiar and comfortable to my ballet mind.
What makes the Taylor company so special, though, is that yes, they clearly have good ballet training, but they add something else to it. There’s a freedom to their movement that ballet dancers sometimes lack, and an unstudied energy and lightness that I think is hard for classical dancers to achieve, given the intense and exacting study that their training demands. I guess what I’m trying to say is that although ballet dancers can do Taylor, can they really be Taylor?