At 74, Paul Taylor is considered a giant of modern dance. In 1956, he and his company first performed at the Italian Spoleto Festival, kicking off an illustrious career, so it is only fitting that he should celebrate his anniversary of being the top living choreographer a half-century later at Spoleto Festival USA. “It was a very valuable time for the company, and got us many performances in Europe,” he explains in a telephone interview from his home on the north fork of Long Island. One of the pieces, 3 Epitaphs, will be performed while they are in Charleston. “Originally it was 4 Epitaphs,” says Taylor, “but [Gian Carlo] Menotti (the festival’s founder) suggested it was too long and so it was shortened.” It remains the oldest piece in his repertory and a wonderful example of Taylor’s sly and innovative style.

Today, his dancers are the best in the business, athletically strong and classically graceful. “They are the best company I’ve had,” he says. “I like movement! I like it when dancers move. It is about the steps.”

Taylor also finds music to be an important motivation. “There is so much to pick from,” he says. For example, in the 1962 masterpiece, Aureole, the classical sounds of Handel blend with lusciously lyrical movement, making it one of his most popular pieces — performed not only by his troupe but by ballet companies around the world. “It’s a happy dance and people feel good when they watch it.”

Also on the program here is Oh, You Kid! with music from the ragtime era. Taylor’s use of humor is part of his genius as a choreographer. “It works only if you have the dancers who can pull it off,” he says. “I have some excellent comedians.” Promethean Fire will also be shown, and many critics assume it is the artist’s response to 9/11. “I did not choreograph it with that event in mind, and if they see it that way, it’s fine with me. A specific event would date the piece, and whenever people see it they would think back to that horrible day.”

The 121 dances that Taylor’s created over the last 50 years have the capability to seduce the audience with their beauty and wit and also challenge them with meaningful questions about the human condition. If the audience prefers the pretty steps to the remote themes, Taylor is not worried.

“I don’t really care what my dances communicate to the audience. I can never know what the audience wants or expects, and I’ve had the luxury of not relying on them. I’ve been free to do what I want.”

PAUL TAYLOR DANCE COMPANY • Spoleto Festival USA • $10-$80 • May 27 at 7 p.m.; May 28 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. • 2 hours • Gaillard Municipal Auditorium, 77 Calhoun St. • 579-3100

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