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Joy and loss, comedy and drama

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The Paul Taylor Dance Company is back in town, thanks to San Francisco Performances, and all is well with the world. Taylor will be 77 on July 29, but his 53-year-old company seemed younger than springtime as it blew into the Yerba Buena Theater on Tuesday night. The group won’t visit again for two years; the opportunity to see it shouldn’t be missed.

Program A (Tuesday and Wednesday) represents the complete Paul Taylor: something cheerful, something dramatic and something lyrical, elegant and uplifting.

The program ended with a quintessential Taylor piece, “Airs,” to music by Handel. Playful, simple, always honoring and enhancing the music, Taylor’s choreography is a brilliant kaleidoscope. A pose, a soft gesture, a few skipping steps, an outstretched arm: you can watch this 30-year-old work forever, and it will always look different.

For about half of its considerable history, “Airs” has been graced by Lisa Viola, and there she was on opening night, with her usual explosive energy, contained in precision and charming lyricism. Another youthful veteran, Richard Chen See, was in fine form. Orion Duckstein partnered Viola, and Laura Halzack took the other female lead winningly.

The evening opened with the hilarious 1962 “Piece Period,” a series of imaginative miniatures to music by Vivaldi, Telemann, Haydn and Beethoven. It’s a wonderful cut-up, a wayward stage chandelier claiming a role among the dancers.

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Viola and Chen See are among the greatest practitioners of comic, deadpan, virtuoso dance, and they are exalted in this old work, dusted off so well for the company’s 50th anniversary. But it’s not all fun and games: Right from the beginning, Chen See in “Uno,” to Vivaldi’s music, it exhibits the quirky freedom, surprise and grace that say “Taylor” in capital letters.

“Lines of Loss,” a West Coast premiere, anchors the evening between “Piece Period” and “Airs.” William Snodgrass’ poem is the keynote to these nine tableaux dealing with loss, and Taylor’s unusually austere choreography is enhanced by Santo Loquasto’s sets and costumes.

Viola again is in the lead, Annmaria Mazzini, Julie Tice and Robert Kleinendorst make special impact even within the confines of a true ensemble piece. Taylor selected the music, by the Kronos Quartet, of ancient and 20th century sounds of loss and grief without realizing that Kronos’ first violinist, David Harrington, put together “Lachrymae Antiquae” on the occasion of his young son’s death.

Paul Taylor Dance Company

Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 700 Howard St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. today through Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $27 to $49

Contact: (415) 392-2545 or www.performances.org

Note: Program B, today and Friday, offers “Polaris,” “Profiles,” “Trolius and Cressida (Reduced)” and “Piazzolla Caldera.” Program C, Saturday and Sunday, includes “Roses,” “Book of Beasts,” and “Promethean Fire.”

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