Still burning bright: Paul Taylor Dance Company & ‘Fantasia,’ both to Bach

Dance · Film

Lisa Viola, Michael Trusnovec, original cast, “Promethean Fire,” PTDC
Sara Krulwich/New York Times

The light illuminating the dancers in the photo above is the result of a myriad micro-decisions made by a great theatrical artist of our time. Jennifer Tipton, the acclaimed lighting designer and longtime collaborator of the choreographer Paul Taylor (1930-2018), is slated for much-deserved recognition as an honoree in an upcoming virtual gala benefiting Paul Taylor Dance Company, November 18, 8 pm EST. The multifaceted event, Modern Is Now: Illumination bundles various opportunities for participation, with pre-talks and post-game analyses on offer. But most of us will RSVP for the free streaming broadcast of Taylor’s magisterial Promethean Fire, made in 2002 and much associated with the events of 911. As this transformative piece celebrates its 20th anniversary, it continues to amplify Mr. Taylor’s timeless message of triumph over tragedy.

Set to three keyboard works by Bach – the Toccata and Fugue in D minor; the Prelude in E-flat minor from Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier; and the chorale prelude “Wir glauben all’ an einen Gott”– Promethean Fire features all sixteen Taylor dancers, costumed in black by Santo Loquasto, in a suppressed emotionalism weaving in and out of intricate patterns. A central duet depicts conflict and resolution following a cataclysmic event. But if destruction has been at the root of this dance, renewal of the spirit is its overriding message. A program note quotes Shakespeare, from Othello: Promethean fire “that can thy light relume.” Yes, language and music can save us!

This is such a great opportunity — incomparable, of course, to seeing the company perform in person — to consider the choices Mr. Taylor made in “illuminating” an assembled score of compositions by J.S. Bach, his seventh outing to music by the Baroque-music giant.

Fantasia (1940)

Leopold Stokowski’s thundering orchestration of the Toccata and Fugue is familiar to three generations for its use in Walt Disney’s classic animated film, Fantasia. The unprepossessing Paul Taylor saw the movie as a kid, so when choosing transcriptions for Promethean Fire, he said, “I remembered them from my childhood in Fantasia. There’s a sequence in Fantasia with Stokowski conducting and there are all these colorful shapes zooming around.” Dance critic Clive Barnes augmented this,

Even now I can never encounter Bach’s great Toccata and Fugue in D minor without hearing and seeing in my heart Stokowski’s grandiose orchestration and Disney’s inspired squiggles and strokes – like a Kandinsky abstract painting come to life – that accompanied it in Fantasia. I suspect Taylor had the same reaction, only he transported that reaction to genius.

Clive Barnes quoted by John Henken for the Los Angeles Philharmonic

After your virtual visit with the Taylor Company on November 18, the perfect follow up is a screening of Fantasia (1940) at The Soraya, on December 4, with live orchestra. It’s a matinee, and there is zero doubt little Paul Taylor saw it that way. So take the kids — and let Stokowski blow their minds “in person.” Who knows? You may have a burgeoning choreographer in the family!

artsmeme’s debra levine wishes to thank the taylor company and john henken for texts from which she has drawn for this story.

MODERN IS NOW: ILLUMINATIONS | Paul Taylor Dance Company virtual gala, streamed | Nov 18, 8 pm EST
FANTASIA with live orchestra | The Soraya | Dec 4, 3 pm

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