The curtain rose rapidly to disclose a quiet stage dominated by an enormous rectangular backdrop painted by Alex Katz with puffy clouds arrayed in pink-violet tones, although it was exhausting to say which colours have been painted and which have been conjured by Jennifer Tipton’s excellent lighting. On the naked stage have been eight clumps: the dancers mendacity immobile, two of them lined by cheerfully patterned seashore blankets. Every little thing on this dance—Paul Taylor’s Scudorama, 1963, staged this previous November at New York’s Lincoln Heart for the Performing Arts in an all-Katz night of Taylor dances—already appeared humorous however odd, exact however unnameable: precisely the circumstances of so many work by Katz.
The motion commenced: The dancers started to emerge from their towels, to creep, drag, and pull themselves up and throughout the ground. In opposition to this equipment of movement was a person in a plaid jacket and tie, identical to a Katz cutout, choosing his means by way of the dancers and transferring them round as if they have been objects. Then a trio of women moved by way of in black leotards with starchy white collars, doing a foolish type of prancing tiptoe dance. The opposite dancers started arranging and rearranging themselves into varied groupings, strolling on- and offstage, popping out to whip their seashore towels on the ground, or to carry out different actions each athletic and awkward, to more and more pressing percussive music. You began to really feel such as you have been watching a TV present gone mad, someplace between Stravinsky and The Twilight Zone. There was bother taking place, and plenty of absurdity. An enormous dancer in a grape-colored leotard carried out a demanding duet along with his feminine accomplice, winding and unwinding her limp physique round his neck, shoulders, and hips. The entire firm returned with sinuous movement and athletic hurling, flailing, falling, and heaping up in rows and clusters, carrying each other round like zombified statues. Every little thing began to change into animal, extra creaturely than human; certainly, later I learn that the dance partly got here from Paul Taylor watching a canine in misery on the freeway, “rearing, spinning and pawing the air.” I actually began to surprise why nobody had ever advised me to see this dance. I’ve been schlepped to so many experimental dances by so many dance pals, at phases from Judson Memorial Church to Lincoln Heart to in all places in between, however this dance was the craziest, weirdest dance of all of them, extra radical than others in its unusual hybridity of televisual pop abstraction. It jogged my memory of first seeing Michael Clark dances within the Nineteen Eighties, however largely it made me consider portray and about how so many work that I like, together with Katz’s, defy easy classes like “summary” or “figurative” and defy the class of “avant-garde” too. You couldn’t name this dance avant-garde or not avant-garde, simply a completely unusual expertise: direct, legible, at instances playful, even tacky, at instances brutal and emotional. It made me consider the protagonists of a 2021 Nicole Eisenman portray, Tail Finish, harried characters who creep, smoke, and lounge their means throughout a desert, every doing their very own factor close to a bleak tree towards a poisonous yellow sundown. Likewise, Taylor had stated to a New York Occasions reporter in 2009 about Scudorama, “I wished to do one thing ugly.” This was that, but it surely was a cheerful ugliness, a mutt ugliness, the place an agonistic tumult of contemporary dance was set towards the elegant readability of Katz’s distinct colours and readable shapes.
Over its practically half-hour span, the choreography moved from sweetly antic to hysterical to doomy, the rating moved from bells to police whistles, the temper shifted many instances from innocence to monstrousness and again once more. By the tip, because the creatures crept again collectively to type a decent round huddle below Katz’s seashore towels, it appeared like one of the best dance I’d ever seen. When the curtain went down, my companion (additionally a veteran dancegoer) and I simply checked out one another, gobsmacked by the truth that nobody had ever advised us to go see this off-the-charts paintings. We have been identical to: Wow. What was that?
Amy Sillman is a New York–based mostly artist.