Paul Taylor’s smile is audible. Every interview is ironic for the 80-year-old choreographer.
“One of the reasons I decided to try and be a dancer was that I thought I wouldn’t have to talk,” Taylor laughs. “It hasn’t always proved true,” he adds in his smooth, dulcet tones.
Despite his ambivalence toward language, many of Taylor’s key works in his vast oeuvre of 133 dances include songs, such as the Depression-era tunes of “Black Tuesday,” one of the eight works to be performed by his company starting Wednesday at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
“The rhythm of words is similar to the rhythm in dance,” says Taylor, “and we have several dances that have songs, and that is a collaboration.”
Donizetti’s incidental opera music also makes it onto the bill in the humorous vaudevillian romp “Also Playing,” which features Apache, Egyptian, Spanish and tap dances among its array of comic entertainments.
For contrast, Taylor programmed it alongside the revival of his acclaimed 1966 work “Orbs,” which is choreographed to Beethoven’s late string quartets.
Taylor’s career as a dancer began at Juilliard, before moving on to dance for Martha Graham and Balanchine. His first forays into choreography were at the fledgling age of 23, in a performance that gave birth to what would become the Paul Taylor Dance Company, which has continued to perform regularly for over 55 years.
After all these years of choreographing, the muse still speaks in her myriad of ways: “Sometimes music leads the way, sometimes the idea first,” Taylor says.
His taste is broad, but Taylor’s penchant for the Baroque period is clear, with two Bach works (“Promethean Fire” and “Brandenburgs”) on the program.
“I think just because it’s old music doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not new. It’s new to me,” says Taylor. “I like Bach and Handel, the structure is very solid, like architecture.”
PTDC dancers are also solid, reliable if not astounding in their physical dexterity, and in their ability to finesse the emotional underscores that Taylor often asks of them. The company will get a workout in their brief stint in San Francisco, performing eight different works in four days.
Taylor’s devotion to his hard-working dancers is apparent in the warmth of his voice.
“My favorite part is working with the dancers. They learn very quickly. They’re so talented, and we’re like a family.”
IF YOU GO
Paul Taylor Dance Company
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Novellus Theater, 700 Howard St., Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
Tickets: $35 to $60
Contact: (415) 392-2545, sfperformances.org
Program A: “Cloven Kingdom” (1976), “Black Tuesday” (2001), “Promethean Fire” (2002)
Program B: “Orbs” (1966), “Also Playing” (2009)
Program C : “Three Dubious Memories” (2010), “Brief Encounters” (2009), “Brandenburgs”