New York — Nostalgia comes a dime a dozen these days, and in flavors always predictable: bittersweet and sugary. Imagine, then, the shock and delight of encountering a nostalgic point of view so fresh and original it can't be pigeonholed. I'm not even convinced that ''nostalgic'' is the best word to describe Paul Taylor's new ''Sunset,'' which his company introduced at the City Center at the beginning of a season running till May 1.
''Sunset'' is about memory, the memory of something that did or did not happen. The six men and four women who participate in the dream are either remembering back in time or projecting into the future. Recollection or wish - it's the ambiguity of their emotional state that gives ''Sunset'' some of its layered glow.
Another complication to the story is that it's told from both sexes' point of view. In the dance's first part the people behave as the men would want it. A brief entr'acte, danced only to the sound of bird calls, finds the men and women co-equal and, perhaps not accidentally, at their most intense. In the final part the dream seems to be projected more from the women's minds, for they initiate the action.
The action concerns the rites of courtship, and here, too, the range of expression Taylor provides is surprisingly wide. At first the men come on as extroverts, their boisterous antics in keeping with the soldier uniforms they wear. The women are confused bystanders to the derring-do. As the men grow tender, the women grow acquiescent, and finally enjoy the increasingly elaborate celebration bestowed on them. By the time the third section comes along, it's the women who encircle and carry the men. And then the memory ends, except that it's the women who are left on stage, musing.
Although the courting is forcefully, at times athletically, choreographed, Taylor takes great care to thread ''Sunset'' with images of the reflecting, dreaming, imagining. This motif of thinking, combined with the heartthrob urgency of Elgar's string music and Alex Katz's sun-dappled set and 1940s costumes, gives ''Sunset'' a wistful kind of nostalgic air. Yet the exuberance of the dancing precludes sentimentality. ''Sunset'' makes one look at memory and love through absolutely clear glasses. It's the best dance Taylor has made in several years.
The most unusual dance he's ever made was also offered this season, unveiled at a gala fund-raising event. Choreographed for ballet stars Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins, on loan from the New York City Ballet, ''Musette'' finds Taylor working with ballet technique for the first time.
Quite amazingly, he shows a real aptitude for what ballet dancers can do. Not so amazing but extremely gratifying was the admiration Taylor showed for Farrell's grandeur and lyricism in this short duet. You'd be hard pressed not to love Farrell, but the praise, coming as it did from a heretofore unannounced yet important admirer, was special.