Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Great Performances
HomeBroadcast ScheduleFeedbackNewsletter Great Performances Shop
Musical TheaterOpera on FilmClassical MusicDanceRegional PerformanceCinema
Multimedia PresentationsDialogueEducational ResourcesDance
Dance in America: Acts of Ardor: Two Dances by Paul Taylor banner
Silvia Nevjinsky in "Black Tuesday" (photo by Paul Dodds)
Lesson Plan
Related Web Sites
Paul Taylor Dance Company
Dancemaker Paul Taylor - In Conversation with Allen Robertson
New Deal Network
J.S. Bach Home Page



With its marvelous selection of songs from the Great Depression, "Black Tuesday" provides a window into the troubled lives of individuals who find solace in songs like the romantic "There's No Depression in Love" and the blindly upbeat "Slummin' on Park Avenue." The vintage recordings are both ominous and distinctive -- the way they crackle lends an eerie edge to moments of optimism and even more emotional significance to the misery at hand. Silvia Nevjinsky gleefully portrays a pregnant, destitute young woman in "Sittin' on a Rubbish Can." Annmaria Mazzini is a weary prostitute in the haunting "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and Orion Duckstein is her sleazy pimp, as we learn in the preceding tragicomic number, "Are You Making Any Money?"

Purposely and poignantly, the Pollyannaish qualities that the dancers exude at the start of "Black Tuesday" cannot sustain itself. The final number, Bing Crosby's powerful recording of "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" provides Patrick Corbin, an exquisite dancer, with a solo full of all the emotion of a troubled soul. For Taylor, the song is "the anthem of the Depression"; as the last notes fade, the entire cast edges to the front of the stage. The final second features each dancer standing forward with an outstretched hand in the spotlight -- an ending that leaves the audience with a brutal image.

Formal in its sophisticated structure, dramatic through its use of stark lighting and somber black-velvet costumes (again designed by Loquasto), "Promethean Fire" is a masterpiece of inventive movement. The music of Bach inspired the grandeur and scale and also provided inspiration for its intricate patterns.

Taylor doesn't want to be the sort of choreographer who makes his dances personal. "I've seen some dances where they talk a lot about their terrible mother . . ., and I don't really want to hear about it," he says in the program. "I'm not some kind of complaint board. I don't think it's dignified to inflict your personal troubles . . . on an audience. I don't think of dance as an autobiographical form. I like this little group to represent a whole world."

At bare minimum, "Promethean Fire" projects that sensibility; the human spirit prevails in the end, and what could be more universal? The dancers fall like dominos; crawl on the floor; leap, run, and jump on top of each other to form a pile of bodies in this drama of tragedy and renewal. Corbin, along with Lisa Viola, is again at the work's centerpiece; their simple yet monumental duet serves as a buffer between the darkness of the first half and the celebratory explosion in the second. When the rest of the dancers return to the stage in full force, the work's sensibility has transformed. The use of weight, formerly heavy and powerful, is inflected with a newfound delicacy. The arms and legs, which were stiff with precision and power in the first half, become light with elation that is glorious.

Top banner photos: The Paul Taylor Dance Company in "Promethean Fire" (photo by Lois Greenfield) and "Black Tuesday" (photo by Paul Dodds).

"Promethean Fire"

"Promethean Fire" was commissioned by the American Dance Festival and first performed in 2002.

"Promethean Fire"

The Paul Taylor Dance Company, currently comprised of 16 members, was formed by the choreographer in 1954.

Great Performances Shop

This program is not available on VHS or DVD.