Paul Taylor celebrates its 30th with a brilliant spectrum of dances

The newest works by Paul Taylor stake out the opposite poles of his extraordinary talent. ``Roses'' is a dance full of light. Set to gentle Wagner music, it features five couples, the men and women battily in love with each other. Their gestures are courtly yet relaxed, their feelings are as clear and generous as a sunny day.

``Last Look'' is a dance full of darkness. The characters have trouble getting off the floor. When they do it's to lurch, twitch, tremble to the surge of some awful current, and scramble for shreds of happiness which they never grasp. Strips of polished glass mirror their struggle, which pulses to an ironic score by Donald York.

Even while watching these wildly diverse dances -- so unlike in mood, message, vocabulary -- it's hard to believe they come from the same choreographic mind, and that the same performers are filling their demands with such virtuosity.

Yet the latest New York season by the Paul Taylor Dance Company thrived on such contrasts. To attend all six programs was to swing breathlessly from the exuberance of ``Diggity'' to the mystery of ``Runes'' and the satire of ``Cloven Kingdom,'' finding in each a sense of wonder and adventure that seemed freshly born every time the curtain rose.

Clear patterns do run through Taylor's work. Several of the dances, for instance, are baroque beauties -- set to such composers as Bach and Handel, and charged with an exhilaration that stands out even by Taylor's high standard. These include ``Esplanade'' with its stunning use of simple running and falling patterns; the ecstatic ``Aureole''; and the vigorous ``Arden Court'' with its cascade of graceful images.

At another point on the spectrum are dances that push Taylor's modernism more aggressively. Examples are the eerie ``Profiles'' and the sardonic ``Private Domain,'' which take a skeptical view of the anxious human relations they explore. And some dances seem to spring from their own special corners of Taylor's teeming imagination. There are no labels I know for the surreal humor of ``Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal)'' or the minimalist musings of ``Lost, Found and Lost.'' Such works come to life on terms entirely their own, filling the stage with visions like no others.

Not all Taylor's creations are equally successful, of course, and I had a few gripes during his City Center engagement. The exotic trappings of ``. . . Byzantium'' flaunt their charms more insistently than the dance requires. The nostalgic ``Sunset'' and the jokey ``3 Epitaphs'' were less than thrilling at the performances I saw. And some works, such as ``Mercuric Tidings'' and ``Equinox,'' simply aren't as memorable as their more distinctive cousins.

All of which amounts to a very small hill of beans alongside the sheer, staggering brilliance of Taylor's overall achievement. From the hilarity of ``Snow White'' to the romance of ``Airs'' and the evocations of ``Dust,'' his work must be seen to be believed. In my experience, there's nothing like it.

No choreographer is an island, and Taylor is superbly served by his collaborators. Two of the important are lighting designer Jennifer Tipton, whose work reaches heights of expressive beauty; and conductor Donald York, who also composed the electrifying score for ``Last Look,'' the radiant score for ``Diggity,'' and the outrageous ``elevator music'' for ``Lost, Found and Lost.'' Dancers who especially astonished me included Kate Johnson and Reagan Wood among the women, David Parsons and Elie Chaib among the men. But everyone was a standout at one time or another.

This summer the Taylor troupe will hit the festival circuit. Dates include July 5-7 at the Pepsico Summerfare Festival in Purchase, N.Y.; July 9-13 at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Lee, Mass.; and July 18-20 at the American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C. The company's fall tour will take it to Dallas (Oct. 18-19); Berkeley, Calif. (Oct. 31-Nov. 3); Houston (Nov. 8-9); Cleveland (Nov. 15-16); and Toronto (Nov. 19-24). It will then make its first appearance in the opera house of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., Nov. 29-Dec.1.

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