Paul Taylor may be the most ambidextrous of all choreographers. After 50-plus years of dance making, he continues to craft pieces that can just as soon make your heart sing as make darkness visible - or, in turn, have you fairly bust a gut laughing.
Last night's concert, featuring two Boston premieres and two older Taylor masterpieces - the floor-skimming "Aureole," from 1962 (danced in white, it's been dubbed Taylor's "white ballet"), and the exuberant, windswept "Esplanade" (1975) - was no exception. Indeed, the new "Lines of Loss," with its 11 dancers clad in white till the end - may be the yin to "Aureole's" yang.
Set to an eclectic nine-part score from the Kronos Quartet's recording "Early Music (Lachryma Antiqua)," the autumnal "Lines of Loss" may have sprung from Taylor, now 77, reflecting on the passage of time - the dancers and teachers and people in the street who've dropped into his life, and out of it. The music, which includes pieces by six composers, weaves through the movement like a scratchy memory. Santo Loquasto's haunting set comprises a wall of grey, smudged horizontal lines of varying thicknesses and curvatures - it's as if he dropped an armful of twigs on the ground, and then stomped on them hard, exploding their edges.
Lisa Viola, who's been with Taylor's troupe since 1992, introduces the theme: She flicks a tear from her cheek, flickers her fingers like rain falling. The gesture is obvious, but in Viola's seasoned hands it is more poignant than cliched. At one point she arcs backward, her torso table-like, until her head hits the floor. The movement is echoed later by the alarmingly intense Annmaria Mazzini, who stuffs fury into the phrase and literally slams her torso to the ground. The losses only continue to mount, Taylor seems to be telling us, shredding the narratives of our lives.
The ending comes almost too soon: Now with red draping their white costumes, 10 of the dancers enter one by one and tilt to the floor, like so many slow-motion dominoes. Viola, the only one still in white, walks somberly past them, through to the wings. It is a funeral procession of sorts, a slipping into the afterlife.
The other Boston premiere on the program, "Troilus and Cressida (reduced)," set to Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours," is galaxies away from these somber proceedings. A sendup of the Shakespeare play, it has a cast of just eight: Three cupids in blonde curly wigs, Cressida (Viola), her lover Troilus (Robert Kleinendorst), and three tipsy Greek invaders who spirit Cressida away from Troy. Taylor includes a program note with a partial quote of Helen's from the play - "O Cupid, Cupid, Cupid!" - which may explain why the winged matchmaker appears here in triplicate. The missing part of the quote - "Let thy song be love: this love will undo us all" - seems to be the inspiration for the slapstick action that ensues.
Viola stuns as she turns her formidable technique into rollicking physical comedy. Attempted spins splay into belly flops, fake fouettes devolve into clunky stomps. Unlike the Shakespearean tale, however, all ends happily, with invaders and lovers alike launching into everything from a funky can-can to a Rockettes' kick line.