Modern dance pioneer of the 1950s, Paul Taylor, brought his lively choreography, technically skilled dancers and overall brilliance to a packed Campbell Hall last Wednesday evening. The Paul Taylor Dance Company’s commitment to smooth transitions and sheer strength sets the group among the premier troupes in the world. Still choreographing at age 75, Taylor remains a dance legend and one of the most sought-after choreographers in the country.

Despite the Santa Barbara cloud cover, the company ushered in spring with their first piece, “Spring Rounds.” Set to the waltz music of Johann Strauss, the full cast playfully zipped across the stage like bees on a honeysuckle under the morning sun. Dressed in Peter Pan-esque costumes, the dancers were reminiscent of a child’s first dance performance.

The first thing one noticed about the dancers themselves was their powerful and defined bodies. Unlike waif-like ballerinas, Paul Taylor’s women looked like “real” females.

From the beginning, it was pure enjoyment as the dancers hit every beat, so synchronized that one knew the steps only felt natural. Impressive also were the well-balanced stage formations, a testament to Taylor’s personal career achievements.

Just as any modern choreography defies expectations, Taylor surprised the audience with the darker second act, “Nightshade,” the creepy quality of which was only slightly lessened by the dancers’ attempts at comic relief via the use of blonde, curly wigs. When the curtains lifted, the dancers appeared as museum exhibits, each swathed in contrasting lighting and 18th century costumes. In fact, the only spectacular element to the piece was the lighting, marvelously designed by Jennifer Tipton. The choreography was noticeable – clearly a product of Taylor’s genius – but lacked the intensity to compete with the music and dramatic lighting. The haunting subject matter – whorehouses and male domination – proved shocking after the troupe’s light-hearted opening number. While full of complicated transitions, the dancers failed to capture the audience, leaving the patrons to mumble at the close of the curtain.

The final piece – the futuristic “Promethean Fire” – redeemed the performance, melding the looks of the first two as it fused light and dark. Constrained in black, body-hugging leotards, the dancers demonstrated their skill at synchronization while developing a conformist motif through the tension-and-release theory of modern dance.

By far their most elaborate and advanced piece, the diagonal floor choreography provided a lovely aesthetic, full of turns, leaps and partner-work. Hands down, the most dazzling choreographic effect of the entire performance was the pile of limp bodies created by the full company. Lying still in a heap of human flesh, one single man rose from the mass, like a graceful superhero. He carefully led a woman to his side, creating an image evoking Adam and Eve while the mob disbanded in a slow crawl to the wings.

What Taylor has done, they have perfected. After more than half a century, this company has the athletic ability and innate passion to push the limits far beyond the classic Taylor dance mechanisms. After all, isn’t a goal of modern dance to defy one’s expectations?