Picking up where I left off:
For a dance about hell set to music from hell, Dante Variations is impressively chipper. A considerable portion of the piece is frankly comic: one solo dancer gamely performs with her hands tied behind her back, one with shackles on his ankles, another trailing something from one foot (or perhaps suffering a hot foot). These sections veer toward cuteness, however; they rely a milligram too heavily on props and conceits for their charm. The darker sections of the dance make a stronger impression. Especially wonderful are the pyramidal tableaux in which the dancers freeze at curtain-up and curtain-down, like figures in a lurid frieze; and the fantastical Boschian creatures, built out of dancers, that lumber and menace throughout. Intensifying the whole thing is the jaw-dropping lighting by Jennifer Tipton. Sometimes she bathes the back of the stage in darkness that a dancer can all but disappear into, eerily remaining just faintly discernible; at other points she lights the stage in such a way that the dancers cast giant shadow monsters–no bunnies here–on the back wall. These effects are nothing less than fantastic, and go a long way toward making the piece so deliciously like nightmares.
And then Promethean Fire. Ah, hell. How am I going to write about this dance without sounding like a publicist? Here goes nothing.
In an interesting bit of sequencing, Taylor followed his dance about hell with a dance that is widely believed to be about 9/11. I first saw Promethean Fire in New York City last March, so I knew what I was in for Sunday night. And I didn’t know. This dance is so powerfully beautiful, I can’t imagine ever being truly ready for it, even if I’m lucky enough to see it a dozen times. It does seem to be about the attacks. But the dance is also more universal and more abstract than that; what it mostly represents is the complex of emotional responses those events provoked. Or, to put it still more generally, the kinds of emotional responses they provoked. I doubt that Taylor set out to choreograph on 9/11; rather, he seems to have written a dance that unavoidably reflected the psychic ground he inhabited in the months following the attacks.
What was that psychic ground? Suffering and shock are in the dance, and consolation, love, renewal. I honestly don’t know how to describe its content any more specifically. It was beautiful and thrilling to watch. I alternated between trying to read it–knowing as I did that it had been pegged as Taylor’s 9/11 dance, and being as I am the type that looks for the story in everything–and being saved from thought altogether by the over-the-top beauty of the thing. A couple of times during those brain-dead spells, I thought of a flower opening. Something inexplicably but inarguably, factually gorgeous.
But Terry, I think I’ve been skirting your question:
But it happens that you saw a Taylor dance, Promethean Fire, which is widely thought to make oblique but nonetheless intelligible reference to the events of 9/11. Did you see such allusions in Promethean Fire? And if so, how did they affect your response to it? Inquiring co-bloggers want to know.
Well, when you put it that way…yes. I saw fire, falling, and collapse in the dance. Just in glimpses, but there all the same. And on paper, you know, that sounds as though it could be such a terrible idea. But you feel the same way I do about the dance. So–to bat the ball back to you again–why does it work? I have a notion about this, beyond the simple fact of Taylor being a genius. But I kind of want to hear what you think.