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Uneven 'Wrecker's Ball' Shows Some Engaging Moves

TV REVIEW

October 30, 1996|LEWIS SEGAL | TIMES DANCE CRITIC

Three accessible and endearing Paul Taylor pieces to pop music are combined in a bold PBS "Dance in America" adaptation tonight, an attempt to give separate one-act creations the resonance of a full-evening work.

Titled "The Wrecker's Ball," the hourlong telecast finds Taylor cast as a derelict huddled against an old building scheduled for demolition. As he turns on a cheap radio, we see the building in earlier decades--first serving as a wartime dance hall (the setting for "Company B"), then as a neighborhood movie theater ("Funny Papers") and finally as a '60s crash pad ("A Field of Grass"). Some sections of the original stage choreographies have been reworked for these environments, others trimmed.

Even when the movement remains untouched, radical shifts in values occur. On stage, "Company B" featured a moving frieze of dancers in silhouette: a reminder of World War II and other realities conditioning the actions of the soloists and often deliberately undercutting the Andrews Sisters records used as accompaniment.

Director Matthew Diamond sporadically tries to provide an equivalent for the frieze in his TV version, with muddled results. It's doubtful, for instance, that many viewers will guess that the man in the poignant "Another You" duet is dead--just a memory.

Shot through colored filters, Diamond's treatment of "Funny Papers" emphasizes the obvious: the creation of dance cartoons from some of the silliest songs on records--everything from "I Like Bananas (Because They Have No Bones)" to a desperately off-pitch "I Am Woman."

The telecast works best, perhaps, in the "Field of Grass" sequence, with the ballads of Harry Nilsson and the reworked setting by Santo Loquasto proving equally lush, and the opening solo by Patrick Corbin devastatingly sensitive.

Indeed, all the Taylor company's dancing looks pretty fabulous, even when the relentlessly antic editing makes it hard to follow. Chopping Taylor's choreography into MTV-style video fodder may not represent utter demolition, but it does turn the title of the telecast into one last, lingering irony.

* "The Wrecker's Ball" airs at 10 tonight on KCET-TV Channel 28.

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