When Paul Taylor, universally counted as one of the world's foremost choreographers, comes forth with a new work, that in itself is a sizeable morsel of dance news. When, in addition, the premiere performance is televised live - as it was Saturday night on Channel 26 with the debut of Taylor's "Profiles" from the American Dance Festival on the Duke University campus in Durham, N.C. - the morsel would seem much magnified. On reflection, however, one may conclude there was less there than met the eye.
To be sure, public TV is to be lauded for bringing within the reach of millions an artistic event that otherwise could have been witnessed by, at most, a few thousand fortunate aficionados. It's also true that seeing the "Profiles" premiere, as electronically transmitted, did convey some of the excitement of discovery that must have attended the actual event.
But watching unfamiliar choreography within the flat, dimished rectangle of TV reminds one forcibly of the gap between the live and "canned" experience of dance. We saw Taylor's new "Profiles" and, then again, we didn't see it - what was actually presented to our vision was a miniature two-dimensional projection subject to sundry audiovisual distortions and curtailments.
Coincidentally, the work itself emphasizes two-dimensionality; a theoretical advantage for video. As the title suggests, the four dancers restrict their movements almost entirely to a single, frontal plane. Their sideways postures give the opus the look of a bas-relief in motion. The individual movements, moreover, often seemed to twist or inch along within narrow confines. The accompanying commissioned string quartet by Jan Radzynski accentuates the feeling of constriction - it slithers out from a drone to nervous buzzings and twitterings, which one of the dancers aptly likened to "bug music."
Even on the tube, however, one could see that "Profiles" is full of expressive and formal intrigue - that it's one of those Taylor conceptions, like the earlier "Polaris," that tease the mind and sense with paradox. But it was hard to get much feeling for its planar quality: It takes the depth of three dimensions to appreciate a purposeful compression to two.
Taylor's splendid troupe also was seen in three of his earlier works on contrasting bent: the benignly humorous "Book of Beasts"; the mordantly ironic and decadent "Big Bertha"; and the sublimely poetic "Airs." The program was capably directed by Emile Ardolino, although some live glimpses of American Dance Festival activities might have been preferable to the talking heads that dominated the intermission.