It took two years, but Taylor did just that. Katz responded with his most charming obstacle: 35 metal cutouts of dogs in different poses, one modeled on Taylor’s own pet.
Cutouts had become another signature of Katz’s gallery work: an extension of the flatness in his portraits crossed with the theatrical notion of a “flat,” a two-dimensional set piece. Much of the fun in Taylor’s “Diggity” lies in watching the dancers cavort at high speed through the obstacle course of dogs. But there’s also much wit in how they sometimes pause and pose, looking like cutouts themselves. (The other set piece, a giant “flat” of a cabbage, was Taylor’s idea.)
With the rift behind them, Katz and Taylor continued their mischief. “I said to Paul, ‘You’re so good you could choreograph to elevator music,’” Katz recalled. “And Paul said, ‘I’m not dancing to that trash.’ And three months later, he said let’s do it.” This was “Lost, Found, and Lost” (1982), a brilliantly funny piece with chic black costumes, a flat white stage world and recycled bits of “7 New Dances.”
Then came “Sunset” — his favorite, Katz said. His set cuts off both the back of the stage and one whole side with drops painted to suggest branches and leaves. It’s a decentered, asymmetrical arrangement, with a guardrail. The men wear khaki uniforms and red berets; the women, 1940s summer dresses. The dance never stops looking like an Alex Katz painting.
“You kind of get absorbed into the painting,” said Novak, who performed in “Sunset” revivals. “You feel the flatness and abstraction, but also realism and layers, and I guess you could say a soul.”
The provocation of “Sunset” is the banality of the situation that Katz proposed: soldiers and girls. And the boldness of Taylor’s response is how he takes it seriously enough to risk sentimentality: soldiers and the girls they’re about to leave. The sadness is in the subtext. The gestures and motion are part naturalistic, part abstract, and emotion rushes in. “Sunset” is a dance that reliably makes viewers cry.