One of the many amazing things about choreorapher Paul Taylor is the seemingly limitless fertility of his imagination. This was brought home once more in last night's program by the Paul Taylor Dance Company at Lisner Auditorium -- a program noticeably less spectacular and less immediately accessible than Tuesday's opening, but one no less engrossing, and marked again by the kind of involved and involving performance that is part of the Taylor troupe's signature.
Every one of Taylor's pieces has a sharply crystallized central idea. To be sure, these are dance ideas -- Taylor is no conceptual artist -- but they also have evident connections with life experience, even if the links are seldom easily translatable into words.
Such thoughts were prompted by last night's revival of "Insnects and Heroes," created in 1961 to an original score by John Herbert McDowell, with costumes by Rouben Ter-Arutunian and aptly hallucinatory lighting by Thomas Skelton. It's typical of Taylor that we're not quite sure who's who among the creatures of the title. Yes, there is "the" Insect (Susan McGuire, identified by a dark, scaly carapace with spiky projections, as well as skittery feet. And there are five other dancers distinguished, insect-style, by the color markings of their surfaces. But where are the heroes?
One is reminded by this oddball dance that grown men are thrown into frenzies of fear by tiny hornets, and that few are the heroes among who don't have their spidery sides. Taylor has always been fascinated by the ambivalent parallels between men and beasts or beasties. "Insects and Heroes" is funny and discomfiting, and there's a muted undercurrent of terror about it, as another writer once put it, "like a child's nightmare remembered some years later with a mature air of amusement." event transpire -- there are contortionist solos and an episode of hand-kissing; two males are goaded into an indecisive, head-to-head combat by the Insect; the Insect leads a crazy march beating a triangle; confetti falls (heroes again); and eventually, the Insect pulls a checkered tablecloth out of the side of its head, is covered with it, and emerges, chrysalis-fashion, as a woman. Events, yes, story, no. Taylor is simply exploring bugginess and heroism as completmentary eccentric dance composition.
The more recent "Cloven Kingdom" ploughs the same territory from a different perspective. Taylor appends a Spinoza quote in the program: "Man is a social animal," and the dance plays with the dichotomy between social constraint and animalian anarchy. Dancing of stately decorum in long dresses accompanied by Corelli, gives way in short order to belly-whopping, handsprings and twitchy seizures, accompanied by primitive-sounding percussion, and the two forces contend throughout.
The remaining work on the program -- "Images," set to piano music by Debussy -- inhabits another sphere altogether. Here there's no irony, only idealization. It's a vision of classical serenity, couched in the pictorial symbolism of ancient Crete -- the dancers are profiled figures on a vase and the dance abounds in images of birds, horses, sunrays and in the end, procreative union. It's a toast to life, old and new.