A review of the Paul Taylor Dance Company presenting "Public Domain," "Esplanade" and the magical, new "Beloved Renegade" at University of Washington's Meany Hall.

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Here’s the story behind “Public Domain,” the 1968 revival that opens the Paul Taylor Dance Company program at Meany Hall this weekend, according to company manager John Tomlinson: Taylor was being “chased down” for his use of copyrighted music in some previous works, so the New York-based choreographer went in search of recordings that fell into the public domain. Then he commissioned composer John Herbert McDowell to create a sandwich of musical non sequiturs served up in thick, flavorful slices.

Knowing this background, “Public Domain” appears like a dance innocently trying to find a score. Dressed in bright tones, one for each color of the rainbow, the dancers cavort to every musical interlude with the same naive commitment, regardless of musical content. Sometimes they look magnificently self-possessed and stable; sometimes the juxtaposition is purposefully, impossibly strange (for instance, high-stepping folksy trots set against medieval tones). Several times, a dramatic clip of music forces a movement phrase to jump its tracks or reach a funky, premature end. Yet all in all, the piece travels a light, easy journey, with the two elements of the piece — dance and music — each finally coming to a rest like a once-fresh box of crayons now all scribbled out.

A bit of a trifle on its own, “Public Domain” works as a powerful set-up for the two pieces that follow — each a harmonious marriage of dance and score. In Taylor’s newest piece, “Beloved Renegade,” inspired by Walt Whitman’s life and poetry, the movement is ignited and borne along by the swelling sounds of Francis Poulenc’s “Gloria,” a piece that ranges so far in 25 minutes, and yet still manages to end too soon.

Michael Trusnovec, in the role of Whitman, softly, soundlessly releases himself into the arms of others, again and again, in a variance of embraces — catching sideways-falling soldiers, standing to embrace friends, falling backward to allow himself to be borne away. Laura Halzack, as Whitman’s otherworldly muse, radiates a magnetizing poise; she’s an embodied, light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel messenger. Santo Loquasto’s elegant civilian costumes, set in faded twilight hues, and Jennifer Tipton’s mood-altering lighting add to the mythical quality of this tender, magical work.

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“Esplanade” (1975), set to Bach’s Violin Concerto in E Major and Double Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, shows Taylor setting the gold standard for musicality and simple choreographic invention. Afford me these concertos, he seems to say, and I will honor and defer to these pieces with steps every common man can do — a humble dance lexicon that meshes perfectly with the soaring musical weave.

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