By Alan Olshan
02 Jan 2009
Scudorama, once a mainstay of the Paul Taylor Dance Company's
repertoire, has not been performed at New York City Center since
1969. This March, generations of dancegoers who have clamored for a
revival of this storied work will finally be rewarded.
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 Changesset to songs sung
by The Mamas and The PapasPaul 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
historyas well as his own.