REEL MOTION: Paul Taylor’s Works Make Up "Great Performances" Episode

Mar 06, 2020

Originally airing as part of PBS’s Great Performances under the Dance in America banner, The Wrecker’s Ball: Three Dances by Paul Taylor is a real treat for fans of modern dance and specifically for fans of choreographer Paul Taylor. This episode hasn’t aired on PBS since its first broadcast in 1996 and is out of print. (It was only released on VHS and hasn’t been released on DVD.) Thanks to the Paul Taylor Dance Company’s archival supervisor, Tom Patrick, and WNET/THIRTEEN, Northrop will be screening a 780p digital transfer of the original episode in its entirety on Wed, Mar 11.

While the three pieces featured in The Wrecker’s BallCompany B (1991), Funny Papers (1994), and A Field of Grass (1993)—were originally created for the stage, this episode of Great Performances: Dance in America was conceived entirely for television. With Taylor’s choreography steeped in Americana that mixes his own style with social dancing and popular music from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, it becomes a kinesthetic history of the zeitgeist of each decade. The setting is Danceland—a decrepit dance hall turned run-down movie theater turned squatters’ refuge that is about to be destroyed. Taylor’s gently devastating social commentary through the dance pieces simultaneously celebrates and criticizes each decade. It’s an astounding journey through a turbulent period of history as interpreted by an American master of dance.

Beyond the connective tissue of the concept behind putting these three dances together for television, it is solid direction by Matthew Diamond, and camera work coupled with deft editing that enhances the dancers’ performances and makes this an exceptional example of dance on film. The use of hand-held shots and aerial views really opens the space to the viewer while maintaining an intimate connection to each dancer and each moment in time. There is a sense of place that grounds the concept of Danceland immediately and allows the audience to imagine that among the layers of graffiti and grime (supplied by Tony-award-winning scenic and costume designer Santo Loquasto) the spirit of each era echoes though every turn, every leap, and every phantom of the past that cries out in the moment before the wrecker’s ball hits.

If watching The Wrecker’s Ball gets you excited for the work of Paul Taylor, celebrate his legacy live at Northrop on Sat, Mar 21 at 7:30 pm as dancers perform his Polaris, Last Look, and Esplanade.

Shayna Houp is Northrop’s Artist Services Manager and curates the Film Series each season.

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