David Taylor Dance Theatre brings two days of contemporary dance fantasy to the Vilar | VailDaily.com

David Taylor Dance Theatre brings two days of contemporary dance fantasy to the Vilar

Wren Wertin/Arts and Entertainment Editor
Special to the DailyThe David Taylor Dance Theatre performs "Rainforest" on Friday and has a mixed repertoire Saturday, which includes the world premiere of "Seasons," based on a series of poems of the same name by Gus Nicholson.

Glowing monkeys, larger-than-life insects and a local poet are just part of the two-day experience of David Taylor Dance Theatre at the Vilar Center in Beaver Creek. The troupe performs “Rainforest” on Friday and has a mixed repertoire Saturday, which includes the world premiere of “Seasons,” based on a series of poems of the same name by Gus Nicholson.


“Rainforest” has been a work in progress since its inception in 1995. It’s the result of a collaboration of David Taylor and his performing company, visual artist George Peters, light artists Jill and Daniel Neafus and composer Jesse Manno.

“Our purpose was to take the audience through a magical journey through all sorts of tropical life,” said Taylor.

Since its debut, the work has almost doubled in length. The latest elements to be added were an underwater sequence and a jaguar sequence. It’s been well received by both audiences and critics.

“I think it just takes audiences into a different world completely,” said Taylor, musing on the success of the work. “The whole visual element is so spectacular, and the music that Manno wrote – it’s really a fantasy.”

There are colorful puppets used throughout, while the dancers themselves embrace a rainbow of costumes.

“And with the creatures we have, children really respond to that,” he said. “There’s something about it that even I, who has seen it 7,000 times, respond to. It’s a very complicated show, and a lot of the timing elements are very difficult.”

Because they take it on the road, the work retains a freshness from its constantly changing environs. It’s always got a slightly different feel or look to it.

“Seasons’ and more

The day after failing his Cert III test, ski instructor Gus Nicholson took a nice, long wander up to Hanging Lake. His mood was contemplative, and the deserted trail was just what he was looking for. Nicholson has called many jobs a profession, including being a head hunter for senior executives.

“Life is too long to do just one thing,” he said. “I did old man’s work as a young man. Now as an older man, I’m doing young man’s work. I like helping people access a world they’re unfamiliar with and see the joy on their faces.”

Which is a trait he’s carried into his writing. After hiking on that fateful day for more than an hour he realized if he slipped, he’d almost certainly die. So he turned around.

“But I stopped, because six lines of poetry jumped right into my head,” he said. “Later, I expanded that to 22 lines.”

That poem became the dialogue for his screenplay/dance, “Seasons.” The work is being premiered as part of the “Contemporary Classics” open repertoire performance on Saturday. The Vail Youth Ballet will also be performing.

Nicholson often filled his spare time with writing. While working the Cordillera golf course, he’d fill golf cards with poems. So poetry was nothing new to him. But these poems wouldn’t leave him alone.

He went on to submit them in a poetry contest, and the gold medal gave him the confidence he needed. He wanted to send them out into the world, either as a screenplay or as part of a ballet. But he needed music.

“While cruising the Internet, I found a Web site for European filmmakers,” he said. “And one of them gave me a link to a composer in St. Petersburg, Russia, Alexei Karpov. I wrote to him and he said he’d compose music for it.”

What ensued was an intense correspondence between the two artists. They never met in person. Karpov sent his sounds via the Internet, and Nicholson sent his feedback the same way. The score is classical in every sense of the word.

From there, Nicholson submitted it to the Boulder Moondance Film Festival, and took home another top prize.

“So the project got legs,” he explained. “I took it to David Taylor, and he said we could make it work.”

The poems, or suites, embrace the reality of nature, though they come from an almost esoteric viewpoint.

“Someone once called me the master of the obvious,” said Nicholson. “But what makes it interesting to me is to take the obvious and put it in unique ways – the “Aha!’ moment.”

It’s an interconnected work, with one person’s art feeding the others’.

“My poems inspired the composer, whose music inspired the choreographer,” he said. “And the poems also inspire the dancers, since they’re read in between the dances.”

The choreography came together quickly.

“I don’t think we’ve ever been such a workload,” exclaimed Taylor, the choreographer. “We had three weeks. I lost about 15 pounds, I hadn’t been so involved so intensely in 7 years.”

They’ve been shooting a documentary of the whole process, so the poems will be part of a screenplay now. But first the show must make its premiere.

“It’s funny, at the beginning, to be really honest, I was not overly thrilled with the music,” said Taylor. “The music is very, very well done, don’t get me wrong. He’s very skilled. But it’s a little too classical in some cases. But I can see where as a film score, it could work very well.”

But, as a choreographer, he’s sometimes commissioned to create a dance for a particular piece of music. And so he rose the challenge.

“The first thing I knew was I didn’t want to do classical ballet, because the music was classical enough,” he continued. “And we’re really a contemporary company. So, part of the performance is flat work, and some is en pointe. We’ve ended up with something really fantastic.”

“It’s very vibrant, theatrical and operatic,” enthused Nicholson. “That’s why David Taylor is perfect for this.”

For more information on the performances, visit http://www.vilarcenter.org or call 845-TIXS.

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