"The Taylor Company: Three Recent Works" is the latest installment in public TV's "Dance in America" series, airing tonight from 9 to 10 p.m. on Channel 26, and there's no way it can be recommended too highly -- this is dance at its finest, and also the televising of dance at its best.
The program, taped at the Radio Canada studios in Montreal, was produced and directed by Pierre Morin, who discloses not only a special sensitivity to dance and to Taylor's choreography in particular, but also a remarkable command of video syntax as applied to dance.
Morin makes you conscious -- though never overly aware -- of TV's strength in dance: the ability to take the viewer up close, and to follow the flow of movement in its primary levels of focus with an almost melodic continuity. He uses camera and editing ploys such as dissolves, superimpositions and overhead angles, but he uses them sparingly and only to assist the eye in appreciating the choreography.
Paul Taylor, it's no news, is one of the century's preeminent choreographers, and he's been on a creative roll now for at least a decade. Three masterworks from 1982 and 1983 are performed by his company here: "Mercuric Tidings" (first movement), "Snow White" and "Sunset." Both the performances and the filming are so artful that the impact from the TV screen is, for once, equal to, and sometimes even stronger than, that from the stage.
The program has yet another unusual source of appeal -- between the performances, Taylor (interviewed by Holly Brubach) speaks about his life and his work so beguilingly and with such vinegary wit that if you weren't a convert to start with you'd probably end up as one. He talks, for example, about the youthful urge that led him to dance as "a huge, illogical itch," and remembers at one point that "I tried to think of the music I hated the most" because he thought it would provide a good choreographic challenge.
The three works also illustrate the span of Taylor's imagination. "Mercuric Tidings," to an early Schubert symphony, is all cursive lines, sweeping arcs and powdery soft leaps and rebounds. It's at once extremely classical, even balletic, in design, and radiant with an exuberant Schubertian lyricism. "Snow White," by contrast -- set to a humorously choppy Stravinskian score by Donald York -- is a cartoon version of the fairy story, performed by circus zanies; the devilishly acrobatic dances for the dwarfs even includes references to breakdancing.
The best is last -- "Sunset," to music by Elgar and hauntingly wistful loon calls, a distilled drama of parting that seems to compress a lifetime of romantic experience into its brief frame. Against Alex Katz's stylized backdrop of leaves, twigs and a park railing, six soldiers and four women dance out memories of encounter, entanglement and separation. There may be a more potently expressive dance work of the past 50 years or more, but it wouldn't be easy to name one.