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Dances for Dark Days 

It's hard to imagine a piece better suited to these times

Wednesday, Mar 26 2003
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Mood, as much as movement, distinguishes the dances of Paul Taylor, one of this country's foremost choreographers. Take Black Tuesday, a string of vignettes set to pop songs from the Great Depression and performed in period dress against a backdrop of elevated train tracks and a starry skyline. Two years ago, when the American Ballet Theatre presented Tuesday in Berkeley, our local economy had already slumped; now, it's hard to imagine a piece better suited to these times of economic hardship and political unrest. The New York-based Paul Taylor Dance Company, which is nearing its 50th anniversary, will perform it here, along with repertory work and a premiere.

In Dancemaker, Matthew Diamond's documentary about Taylor, the choreographer speaks of lost love, and that melancholy seeps into even his most rapturous dances. Taylor has built comic interludes and some jazzy social interaction into Black Tuesday, tempered with scenes of real pathos: Characters face violence, abandonment, and poverty, ending with the ensemble's beseeching outstretched palms in "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?" Likewise, A Field of Grass, a '60s-minded romp set to the songs of Harry Nilsson, and the 1975 classic Esplanade, an exhilarating and deceptively simple-looking collection of pedestrian runs, jumps, and falls set to Bach violin concertos, brims with joy shadowed by sorrow.

Taylor's musical choices are critical to the moods he spins, and the West Coast premiere of Promethean Fire, set to Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, promises a certain sobriety. The company also dances Taylor's loopy Offenbach Overtures and other works in three programs over two weeks. On April 1, Dance/Screen at San Francisco Performances presents the video The Taylor Company: Recent Dances (1984), after which troupe members will answer questions.

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Heather Wisner

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