They were selling a new souvenir booklet for the performance of the Paul Taylor Dance Company at the Eisenhower Theater last night. The cover has a facial portrait of director-choreographer Taylor (by Alex Katz, an artist who's done numbers of designs for the company) that makes him look a bit like Dick Tracy.
After seeing the superb troupe in action again in a trio of brilliantly contrasting Taylor masterworks, I think maybe Taylor is Dick Tracy -- all-American crimebuster, ferreting out choreographic clues where no one else would think to look, uncovering the sinister (and the ludicrous) elements in society, tough, invincible and a funnyman to boot. Who else would dream of turning Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps" into an animated cartoon, and who else would disclose so unerring an instinct for the movie mythology of the underworld in the process?
The great comic revelation of last night's program, however, was the madly unbuttoned "Public Domain," if only because this ingenious opus from 1968 hasn't been seen here in many moons. It's not easy to pinpoint the particular brand of wit that's at work here -- there's the daring, speed and understatement of Keaton; there's something of Marcel Duchamp's sedition and surrealism; but there's also a dry, offhand, breezy quality that's pure Taylor. The indecently clever musical collage by John Herbert McDowell sets the tone by giving us a sonic crazyquilt that juxtaposes Gregorian chant, Wagner, marching bands and "The Synocpated Clock" with Beethoven, W. C. Fields, Oscar Wilde and Sibelius.
The choreography follows suit -- it's an apotheosis of non sequiturs, turning every dance cliche ever seen on its head and bumping each belly-to-belly into another. Among the many treasures: a beach ball and a golf ball rolling across the stage to a preposterously apt quote from "Medea"; the spectacular superjock solo (stunningly executed by David Parsons); the series of photo-finish tableau endings to a scrambling of the last chords of the Sibelius Fifth.
"Public Domain" was preceded by the neo-classic "Airs," with its exquisite Elysian graces, and followed by the multi-layered "Sacre," which is part dance rehearsal, part whodunit and part essay in stylization. If Taylor isn't Dick Tracey, then he's Prof. Moriarty, or someone equally well versed in disguise. Except for "Sacre," in which the dancers looked a bit tired and off pace, the company was its usual dazzlingly exuberant and committed self.