AP National Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- In the six decades he's been choreographing, Paul Taylor has never shied away from dark themes. Even his funnier works often have sinister undertones; he has tackled war, violence of all kinds, rape, incest and death.
But Taylor, now 82, can also convey sheer joy and lightness of being through dance like few others. And it was that lighter quality that the company emphasized as it launched its annual New York season at Lincoln Center on Tuesday evening.
The program was a celebration of old and new. It included the oldest work in the Taylor repertory, the wonderfully bizarre "3 Epitaphs," and the newest -- his 138th piece, to be precise -- the folksy and pastoral "Perpetual Dawn."
Taylor's musical choices have always been as crucial as the dances themselves, and for the 1956 "3 Epitaphs" the budding choreographer, still in his 20s, chose early New Orleans jazz, the music played at weddings and funerals in the south. To that score, he set five peculiar creatures gyrating across the stage, dressed head-to-toe in dark gray unitards (designed by the late artist Robert Rauschenberg) with reflectors beaming from their heads and hands.
The weird costumes bring several interpretations to mind: Are these characters wayward sperm from an old Woody Allen movie? Especially graceful coal miners? Actually, the lumbering movements suggest something more like futuristic cavemen.
Five years after "3 Epitaphs" Taylor created "Junction," also performed on Tuesday night. It was the first time he had used a Baroque score, in this case Bach cello suites, and that became one of his signatures: setting modern movement to centuries-old music, and exploring the relationship.
The newest work, "Perpetual Dawn," continues the exploration. Also set to a Baroque composer, Johann David Heinichen, it depicts young people in country attire, perhaps in a field, experiencing love for the first time. Eleven dancers -- six men, five women -- join together, fall apart, join again. The body language is partly classic Taylor -- one arm outstretched in an upward arc, leading the body to the side -- and partly not: At one point, two women break briefly into the Charleston.
Michelle Fleet was lovely as a young woman who experiences some loneliness while the others unite in couples. As in many of Taylor's works, the veteran dancer Michael Trusnovec commanded attention, as did the ebullient Heather McGinley.
The evening ended with the 1995 "Offenbach Overtures," a foray into pure comedy and clowning to the spirited music of the 19th-century French composer Jacques Offenbach. Here, buffoonish soldiers mixed with coquettish can-can dancers. The adventures included a woeful struggle between a dancer and her wayward hat, and a comic duel involving four men during which some unexpected feelings developed. At another point, two of the men seemed to make obscene gestures at each other.
All in fun, of course. His darker themes aside, Taylor knows how to have a good time.
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