Paul Taylor, a Master of Light and Darkness

Paul Taylor performing in his “Aureole” in 1965.

When Paul Taylor began working on “Aureole,” a pristine and plotless work set to Handel, his dance company was performing in Paris. Their days were free, and that afforded him a rare opportunity to choreograph on a stage instead of in a studio — to take in the bigger picture.

But “Aureole” (1962) also contains one of modern dance’s most beautiful solos, originally danced by Mr. Taylor, who died on Wednesday. Arduous but seemingly simple, the solo strips movement of excess and begins after the dancer walks to the center of the stage. Walking, as Mr. Taylor knew, doesn’t let a dancer hide. “Sometimes,” he told me in an interview, “it indicates too much self-possession that is putting on something that isn’t true.”

In “Aureole,” nothing is put on: The dancing begins with an overhead opening of the arms that never seems flowery or grand, but an invitation to watch the human body struggle and succeed through precarious balances that allow a free leg to unfold and extend, or développé, in space. (At left, Mr. Taylor performing “Aureole” in 1965.)

The solo never abandons its sense of serenity, and all the while it is the powerful expansiveness of the back — a Taylor signature — that allows the movements to flow. In it, Mr. Taylor achieves that remarkable dance thing: He alters our notion of time.

With its lyricism and dancers dressed in white, “Aureole” is pretty, a word that Mr. Taylor always uttered with a certain disdain. He liked to show the ugly side of existence, too. His follow-up to “Aureole” was “Scudorama” (1963), a dark work named after fast-moving clouds — he thought of the people in it as wisps of humanity. Its images, he explained, were of “oh, corpses and death and of unpleasantnesses.”

It wouldn’t be right to cherish Paul Taylor only for his Baroque masterpieces like “Aureole,” “Esplanade” (Bach) and “Brandenburgs” (Bach). These are not merely pretty but downright beautiful moments in an increasingly dark world. And as Mr. Taylor tried to teach us over and over again, you can’t have the light without the dark. So many choreographers feel a need to please. He never did. His dances were true.

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