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Public Domain – Paul Taylor (1968)

March 8, 2010

The lights rise to present a scene of boldly colored dancers. Their movements are slow, careful, powerful and repetitive, or, as is the case for the woman in purple, there are no movements at all. It is suggestive of an honest, contemplative dance. However, by the time they have formed a line with one hand on the shoulder of the dancer in front of them and the opposite foot raised, hopping off stage, it becomes obvious that this will not be a serious piece.

Credit: Lee Talner

The title, Public Domain, comes from the snippets of music accompanying the piece. At the conception of the dance, it is said that Paul Taylor was being chased down for copyright infringement in his previous works and as a response commissioned John Herbert McDowell to create a music collage of publicly available music and sounds. Samples from Gustav Mahler’s 1st Symphony:

Jean Sibelius’ 3rd:

and 5th Symphony:

Ludwig van Beethoven’s 9th Symphony:

Alexander Glazunov Violin Concerto:

as well as short disconnected clips of voices recounting strange and comical events are all used.

Credit: Lee Talner

The dancing itself, then, seemed to be disconnected as well. At times the dancers would be moving slowly in unison to the drawn out notes of a violin and cut to sharp comic gestures at others. There were also oddly placed props: a ball rolling across the stage, a man walking with a crutch, someone skittering from one side to the other under a large box and an even smaller ball chasing after the larger ball. The stillness of the woman in purple during the first part of the dance is broken when she rises and runs holding a small white flag in her hand.

Although these sections are laughable and ironic, there are plenty of purposeful and aesthetically pleasing moments and it is difficult to tell when the movement is serious and when it is satirical. I have never met Paul Taylor but I have seen the film Dancemaker which includes many conversations with him. It seems that he enjoys telling the press and the inquiring public fabricated stories for his own enjoyment and to see what people would believe coming from someone they appreciated as a genius. It causes me question whether there really was any ‘chasing’ from copyright watchdogs or if he was merely spicing up his dance. With this piece then, it seems that at times the audience is laughing at the choreography and at others, Paul Taylor is laughing at the audience, trying to see how far he can push the movement and still garner respect from his fans.

Credit: Lee Talner

However, whether the movements were for laughs or for an emotional tug, they were all incredibly beautiful and executed by unbelievably beautiful dancers. Even at it’s most comical, the intention of the movement was the same throughout and gave the piece a very collected feel. The final moments of the dance were the most obviously ironic as the dancers tried frantically to find an ending pose. After ten or so different arrangements, including any number of dancers or groups of dancers scrambling to end up in ridiculous yet believable positions, the finish explodes into place.

What was your favorite section of this dance?

Were you confused as to which parts were supposed to make you laugh?

Did you enjoy the juxtaposition of the different public domain clips?

Do you believe everything an artist tells you?

March 6th, 2010, 8:00pm
New York City Center
New York City, New York

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