Among the most notable hallmarks of the work of the legendary choreographer Paul Taylor is his willingness to go beyond the standard range of composers — both classical and modern — to provide him with inspiration. That much-needed sense of adventurousness is on display in his two newest works for Paul Taylor Dance Company — Beloved Renegade and Changes — now getting their New York premieres at City Center. If neither is a dance for the ages, both are worthy additions to the company’s vast repertoire.
Beloved Renegade is set to, of all things, a choral version of Francis Poulenc’s liturgical “Gloria” — and is inspired by the words (and life) of the poet Walt Whitman, specifically, six quotations from his landmark poem, “Leaves of Grass.” It’s an intriguing combination, to be sure, and the work will likely deepen in viewers’ minds with repeated viewings.>
Not quite a story ballet, Beloved Renegade nonetheless imposes some narrative as “Whitman” (played by the company’s lead dancer, the always exquisite and elegant Michael Trusnovec) both watches and interacts with a series of children, lovers, dying soldiers, and ultimately a woman — who is essentially the angel of death (the lovely Laura Halzack) — who leads him to his final resting place. The choreography, gorgeously lit by Jennifer Tipton, relies a bit too often on familiar Taylor movements — though a brief reenactment of a game of leap frog is a bit surprising in this context. Still, the work is extremely well danced by the entire company, with Amy Young, Orion Duckstein, and Robert Kleinendorst making strong contributions.
Far more of a trifle, the delightfully entertaining Changes throws us back to the 1960s, specifically the music of The Mamas and The Papas. Much of the fun comes from simply watching the lithe cast — decked out into Santo Loquasto’s spot-on hippie vests, bell-bottomed pants, and mini-dresses — meld their innate precision and grace with the more freeform movements of that period.
Of the 11-person ensemble, the radiant Annmaria Mazzini is appropriately earthshaking in “California Earthquake,” the energetic Michelle Fleet knows how to work both her body and her Afro, and Francisco Graciano earns marks for sheer bravado for getting through the rather wacky “Dancing Bear” (a drug dream, perhaps?) in footed pajamas. And if you’re not “California Dreaming on a such winter’s day” after hearing and watching the exuberant last number, you’re a better man than I.