A virtual performance, it turns out, can be snowed out. That is, if it’s performed live and streamed into audience members’ homes.
The Paul Taylor Dance Company was scheduled to give its first live performance since the pandemic began at the Annenberg Center on Thursday, but it was postponed until Friday after a snowstorm suspended operations on Penn’s campus.
It was worth the wait. Even though it was their first time out, the dancers looked as wonderful as ever, fit, fluid, and fully rehearsed. In a post-performance discussion, artistic director Michael Novak, who did part of his training in Philadelphia, said the dancers never stopped taking class, and in-person rehearsal resumed in December, with proper COVID-19 protocols.
The approximately 40-minute performance included two pieces danced live and one on video. It was astonishing to see the dancers perform full-out in masks (designed to match their costumes) with little interference. (It took trial and error and various sizes of masks, Novak explained, as well as extra cardiovascular training.)
It was equally wonderful to see a group of dancers able to touch and work closely together.
Taylor’s Arden Court opened the program. Choreographed in 1981 for nine dancers, Taylor had already restaged it in 1994 for six dancers to allow the smaller second company to perform it. This made it a good choice for a pandemic performance. Set to baroque music by William Boyce, it is a very welcome breath of fresh air.
The dancers mostly work in solos or duets, but in one section, the three men carried the three women while they were all connected in a circle. A moment of normality!
Unlike BalletX’s dance on camera, which puts you in the action, this performance was filmed from an audience’s point of view, which feels a little flat. Still, sitting at home, it was nice to be able to get close to the screen to see the details.
The audience got a better view for the excerpt from Cloven Kingdom, set to music by Malloy Miller, which was filmed last year. A work for four men in tuxedos strutting, prancing, and preening. The video allowed us to peer into their herd and get various views of the work.
The program concluded with another live performance, Taylor’s 1993 A Field of Grass. Set to music by Harry Nilsson, this is a view of 1960s counterculture through the eyes of one character (danced by Alex Clayton). He is the only one who very briefly takes off his mask — to smoke what is presumably the grass in the title — and an adventure begins.
This piece was another welcome trip to an earlier era, danced with freedom and beamed into our homes.