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A birthday present to the world: A new dance by Paul Taylor

Thursday marks the 80th birthday of Paul Taylor, one of America’s most celebrated modern choreographers. Since beginning his career as a student at the Julliard School and then performing with the Martha Graham Dance Company, Taylor has created more than 130 works. His panache for tackling and interpreting some of life’s more complicated, difficult or esoteric subjects — religion, death, sexual abuse, war — continues to draw audiences more than 50 years after the founding of his troupe, the Paul Taylor Dance Company.

PBS NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown interviewed Paul Taylor in 2007.

Last week, the company visited the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, just outside Washington, for a special debut. Sandwiched between two popular Taylor works (“Brandenburgs” and “Beloved Renegade”) was the regional premiere of “Phantasmagoria,” a co-commission by the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts and the American Dance Festival in honor of Taylor’s 80 years.

Effervescent and surreal, the Phantasmagoria is like a window into a dream, and was inspired by a painting by Flemish Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder (titled, fittingly, ‘Wedding Dance in the Open Air’), an animated tableau where every figure is frozen in a moment of action.

In Taylor’s vision of revelry, peasants frolic and lament while Adam and Eve get (humorously) intimate with a stuffed snake, and a drunken bum bothers a trio of ladies who are made to look and move like Isadora Duncan. Just like a dream, the dance is over just as it’s getting good.