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THE '80s A Special Report : THE TASTE MAKERS : Presenting the big players and major ideas that--for better or worse--shaped the 1980s. This is Calendar's fifth annual Taste Makers report, expanded this time to cover the last 10 years in the following categories: Show Business Execs, Film Producers, Film Directors and Writers, Stage, TV, Music, Dance, Pop Music, Jazz, Comedy, Radio, Art and Restaurants. : DANCE : PAUL TAYLOR

December 24, 1989|LEWIS SEGAL

In a conservative, glamour-hungry decade that treated ballet as the Main Event, and modern dance as merely a sideshow, Paul Taylor (now 59) nevertheless became even more widely imitated as a choreographer.

Not only did lesser artists continue to steal from his 1962 "Aureole" (a plotless showpiece that inspired a virtual modern-dance subgenre by setting frisky, all-American athleticism to Baroque music), but the dance-without-steps innovations of his 1975 "Esplanade" were robbed blind, repeatedly.

PBS helped broaden Taylor's influence and so did ballet companies--though a badly shot Taylor work could look like an imitation, just as imitations and the real thing could turn up in the same ballet repertory. In 1986, the Joffrey even scheduled Taylor's 10-year-old "Cloven Kingdom" on mixed bills with Mark Haim's new, Tayloresque "Garden of Boboli."

No matter. There was plenty more where that came from, starting in 1980 with "The Rehearsal," a wildly idiosyncratic silent-film-style gangster melodrama set to the two-piano arrangement of Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps." No longer mythic and timeless, this fabled, fearsome score now sounded jazzy, ironic, very much of its time--though Taylor allowed references to the plot and even movement style of Vaslav Nijinsky's 1913 ballet to extend the work's frame of reference. For once, Taylor proved inimitable.

Soon after came "Sunset," lush, lyrical, just as multilayered and sometimes acutely unsettling in its juxtapositions--between Elgar and recorded loon calls, between nostalgic courtship rituals (soldiers and girls in a park) and premonitions of untimely death.

Two more milestones appeared in the middle of the decade: the rhapsodic "Roses," which extended the range of male corps virtuosity into a new realm of dynamic sensitivity, and the unsparingly harsh social portrait "Last Look," about the aftermath of hedonism.

Its expansion of gestural material into convulsive whole-body statements--and its sense of communal despair--pointed the way toward the sardonic, Jungian examinations of social fragmentation in Taylor's most recent work, especially "Speaking in Tongues." He remains a master. The edge in his work has never been sharper.

The Taste Makers project was edited by David Fox, assistant Sunday Calendar editor.

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