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Taylor captures neitherklezmer nor bluegrass

Reprinted from late editionsof yesterday's Globe.

Paul Taylor's new ''Klezmerbluegrass" seems like a brilliant idea on paper.

Commissioned by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture to celebrate 350 years of Jewish life in America, it offers the perfect opportunity to mine the cultural convergence between the folk dance of Eastern European Jews and that of their adopted land in America. And on a superficial level, Taylor has done that, with a pretty set of dances driven by traditional klezmer and bluegrass tunes that have been artfully melded and arranged by Margot Leverett, an original member of the Klezmatics and the founding director of the Klezmer Mountain Boys.

However, given its Boston premiere Friday night during the Paul Taylor Dance Company's Celebrity Series engagement, ''Klezmerbluegrass" seems conscientiously crafted to be a crowd pleaser -- sweet, cute, easy to look at, but disappointingly glib. Line dances, with hands on shoulders, morph into circle dances, which split into flirtatious coupling, with playful lifts and formal bows and curtsies. The stomps and kicks of traditional folk dance segue into square dance figures. The commonalities are immediately apparent, but it's all mostly on the surface. Overall, the 23-minute work is a romp that never digs deep, never seems to capture the soul of either culture.

It is deliberately nonnarrative. In fact, Santo Loquasto's elegant costumes of raspberry and periwinkle are stunning, but serve to highlight the dancers as moving bodies rather than people, defying any sense of context. Only occasionally does the dancing hint at character, and these are the work's best moments. Richard Chen See has a brief, electric solo; Sean Mahoney and Julie Tice dance a high-spirited barnyard dance, complete with gestures of milking a cow; and Annmaria Mazzini is liquid silk in a pensive, lyrical solo of turns and luxurious extensions. However, she suggests just a hint of the yearning found in the accompanying Yiddish folk melody.

The program opener was a capable performance by ''Company B," which has replaced Taylor's exquisite ''Esplanade" as the troupe's signature piece. While the suite of dances is masterfully choreographed and charming, it is also very overexposed. It's been performed in the area by at least three companies multiple times over the past few years. Taylor should trust that Boston audiences can find adventurous programming, old and new, as compelling a draw as repeat performances of the tried-and-true standby.

Luckily, Taylor's 1980 ''Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal)" provided the evening's perfect antidote. Set to Stravinsky's landmark score (in the two piano version), it's a dark, funny little minidrama with a postmodern edge. Relentlessly stylized, it unfolds with cartoonish verve. Much of the action is performed in Nijinsky-esque two-dimensional posturing, legs bent, feet flexed, hands clenched. Bodies are lifted in static form or wheeled upside down like windmills. The movement aesthetic gets tiresome, but the theatrical invention is marvelous. And it was a great idea to revive an older piece, since this season celebrates the Taylor company's 50th anniversary.

And counting. . .

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