New York City Center: A Legend Returns to the Stage

Classic Arts Features   New York City Center: A Legend Returns to the Stage
 
Scudorama, once a mainstay of the Paul Taylor Dance Company's repertoire, has not been performed at New York City Center since 1969. Generations of dancegoers who have clamored for a revival of this storied work are being rewarded with a Feb. 25- March 15 run.


Scudorama is one of nineteen dances to be presented at City Center when the Taylor Company returns, from February 25 through March 15, 2009.

With Scudorama and the New York premiere of Changes: set to songs sung by The Mamas and The Papas: Paul Taylor will give audiences two views of the turbulent 1960s: one from the eye of the storm, the other with four decades of hindsight.

Scudorama dates from 1963, when America was still in the grip of nuclear fear following the Cuban missile crisis of the previous October. Taylor intended this "dance of death" to be as dark as his earlier Aureole was sunny.

Anxious to begin work before the commissioned score was completed, Taylor set sections of the new dance to "Le Sacre du Printemps" and asked composer Clarence Jackson to match Stravinsky's rhythms in those parts. Meanwhile, Alex Katz designed set and costumes, and Thomas Skelton, lighting. The dance's title derived from the scud clouds that race across stormy skies, and "-orama," a term then in vogue that connoted "bigger and better" but to Taylor signaled "tacky."

By the time Jackson finished his orchestration, Taylor and his seven dancers were already at the American Dance Festival in New London, Connecticut, rehearsing for the world premiere of Scudorama on August 10. Jackson put his only copy of the score on a Greyhound bus to New London. The bus arrived as scheduled; the score did not. Lacking music, Taylor and company : including the young Twyla Tharp : elected to perform the dance in silence, relying on their muscles' memory and the audience's forbearance.

"The dancers were so focused that the tension leapt over the footlights," recalls original cast member (now Taylor Rehearsal Director) Bettie de Jong, "and the audience loved it." Jackson made new copies of his score for subsequent performances at ADF and throughout the country. Taylor added a program note quoting Dante's Inferno: "What souls are these who run through this Black haze...these are the nearly soulless whose lives concluded neither blame nor praise."

Three months later, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and shocked Americans suddenly felt as lost as the desperate souls of Scudorama.

As Taylor's craft deepened, he came to regard some of his early dances, including Scudorama, as progenitors of later works, and Scudorama disappeared from the repertoire in 1973. Over the next decade, dancers asked Taylor to revive it. Instead, in 1985 he created Last Look, a riveting dance with frenzied protagonists who may be survivors of a nuclear holocaust. This frightening post-apocalyptic vision, with music by Donald York and set and costumes by Alex Katz, will also be part of the 2009 repertoire, as will Danbury Mix from 1988, with its put-upon Miss Liberty. A postscript to the Scudorama tale occurred ten years after its world premiere, when the Taylor office was notified that during demolition of the New London bus depot, a package was found. Sure enough, it contained Jackson's missing original score.

Taylor takes a fresh look at the '60s in his new Changes, featuring the lush harmonies of the influential folk/rock group, The Mamas and The Papas. With set and costumes by Santo Loquasto and lighting by Jennifer Tipton, Changes begins in the spirit of free love that characterized the era's burgeoning hippie movement. It darkens to reflect a national mood colored by more assassinations, race riots, increased drug use and America's protracted involvement in the Vietnam War, and focuses on the radicalization of young people as they defied authority and embraced liberation movements. Changes climaxes with an anthem of the era, "California Dreamin,'" which unites the disillusioned.

A program note for Changes states that although we may think of the 1960s as unique, 40 years later the country is again involved in an unpopular war amid demands for change. "The more things change," it quotes the famous epigram, "the more they stay the same."

As ever, the Taylor Company's 2009 repertoire will cover a wide range as it spans 45 years of creativity, from the voyeuristic Private Domain, romantic Eventide, mysterious ...Byzantium and inspirational Promethean Fire, to the comedic Funny Papers, Offenbach Overtures and The Sorcerer's Sofa. It will include such evergreen works as Arden Court, Esplanade, Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal) and Mercuric Tidings, and last season's Mexican-suffused diptych, De Suenos (of dreams) and De Suenos que se Repiten (of recurring dreams). With the New York premiere of Beloved Renegade: inspired by the life and poems of Walt Whitman and set to Poulenc's riveting "Gloria": Taylor presents his most spiritual work in years. And with the revival of Scudorama, the dance maker recalls a seminal time in America's history: as well as his own.

For tickets and information, visit New York City Center.

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