The most telling part of Matthew Diamond's documentary Dancemaker unspools in pre-dawn darkness, as a groggy Paul Taylor dancer tries to roust himself out of bed. To a voice-over litany of the aches and injuries accrued the night before (and throughout his professional career), he limps naked from an unfamiliar hotel bed into the shower, letting hot water pound some of his fatigue away. Dancemaker's behind-the-scenes focus is what gives us such an honest account of a dancer's life. Much of the film is shot, dizzyingly, from the wings; rather than the flat frontal performance view that dance films too often deliver, we see the stage from the dancers' perspective, and hear the great heaving breaths of their entrances and exits. Nor does Diamond canonize the nearly 70-year-old Taylor, one of the last great choreographers of this century. We get him as he is, which isn't always likable.
If the film makes us ask why dancers would continually face down hundreds of rivals for a job, or work for a man who once fired his company for refusing to spend Christmas with him, the Paul Taylor Dance Company's performance last fall at Yerba Buena Gardens gave us an answer. At a free outdoor event, on a stage slick with rain, the dancers romped through the repertory work Fields of Grass, a vibrant collection of Age of Aquarius dances set to Harry Nilsson songs, and smoldered through the new piece Piazzolla Caldera, a triumphant treatment of the tango that never lost its heat and verve, despite the constant drizzle. There is a tangible joy in this dancing, evident in the film and even more so in live performance. An ambitious Taylor residency, including a weekend conference April 9-11 at Yerba Buena, brings us old and new Taylor works in three programs over two weekends. Performances begin with Mercuric Tidings, Eventide, and a specially reconstructed La Sacre du Printemps (the rehearsal) on Program A 7 p.m. Wednesday at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 701 Mission (at Third Street), S.F. Admission is $5-35; call 392-4400. Dancemaker screens through Thursday at the Lumiere, 1572 California (at Polk), S.F. Admission is $7.50; call 352-0810 or see Showtime (Page 84) for times. (