Paul Taylor dancers range from Bach to `Bach'

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ALONG with its unquenchable energy, the most striking asset of the Paul Taylor Dance Company is the enormous breadth of its emotional range. As if to underscore this quality, the troupe used its just-concluded run at City Center Theater to introduce a pair of new works that couldn't be more different from each other. One is a group of elegant episodes set to a baroque classic by J. S. Bach, while the other is a slapstick romp set to satirical pieces by P. D. Q. Bach, the old master's most spurious (and hilarious) offspring.

Diversity was also the order of the day in a long list of Taylor revivals, including the wildly different dances he unveiled last season -- the romantic ``Roses'' and the apocalyptic ``Last Look,'' which were presented this year back-to-back, on a single program.

``A Musical Offering,'' one of the new Taylor works, takes its title from one of Bach's most engaging pieces, played in the Webern/Beyer arrangement by the Paul Taylor Dance Company Orchestra under Donald York's baton. As the music wends through variations on an insinuating theme, the Taylor troupe performs a total of 16 solos, duets, and larger-scale numbers. The mood and appearance of the work have a touch of the tribal and even the primitive about them, with their ritualistic gestures, angular poses, and gymnastic interludes. The combination of music and movement is unexpected and offbeat, but it feels just right.

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The other new work -- ``Ab Ovo Usque Ad Mala'' (From Soup to Nuts) -- is funny right from its unwieldy title. Decked in outrageous attire, including bushy beards for some, the dancers stumble, stagger, collide, and occasionally dance their way through what could be the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, or maybe just the decline and fall of our stuffier notions about dance. It certainly isn't the decline and fall of the Taylor company, though, which brings a sense of ease and gracefulness to even the goofiest of its slyly choreographed blunders. The music is credited to P. D. Q. Bach, the bogus composer concocted by Prof. Peter Schickele, who is listed in the program as ``editor'' of the pieces -- which bear the solemn titles of ``Royal Firewater Musick'' and ``Howdy Symphony.'' They suit Taylor's choreography to the proverbial T.

Other highlights of the six Taylor programs at City Center included revivals of the exuberant ``Arden Court'' and ``Esplanade,'' both looking as vigorous and virtuosic as ever; another look at the delightful ``Diggity,'' a dog-inspired romp that's still a charmer even when danced a little loosely; and more Bach -- played this time by a solo cello -- accompanying ``Junction,'' a particularly colorful work dating back to 1961. Also worth special mention are the wry ``Lost, Found and Lost'' (set to Muzak-style ``wallpaper music'') and the lavishly designed ``. . .Byzantium,'' as well as the farcical ``Snow White'' and the sardonic ``Cloven Kingdom,'' which combines pure dance with pointed commentary on the ``social animals'' we humans supposedly are.

In sum, it was a most stimulating series of sessions with one of our most stimulating dance companies, with especially deft work by such Taylor favorites as David Parsons and the amazing Kate Johnson. The troupe will make its next American appearances next month at the American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C., and the Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival in Lee, Mass.

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