Near the beginning of Dancemaker (1998), Matthew Diamond's Oscar-nominated documentary, Paul Taylor admits, "I get my energy, I think, from being afraid — being afraid to choreograph, being afraid to fail." Perhaps because of this primal fear, or the hard-won courage to overcome it, Taylor's expressive interpretation of the human condition — with all its grace and depravity, contradiction and loss — tellingly complements our own search for meaning.

Now seventy-four and celebrating his company's fiftieth anniversary, Taylor came rather late to dance — he went to college on a swimming scholarship. (He went on to study and perform with Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham, among others.) As a former elite athlete, he values excellence, discipline, and protocol. Individually or considered together over the course of an evening's program, Taylor's pieces are structured to hit certain marks — physical, emotional, visual, and musical. That may sound old fashioned, and in some ways it is, but Taylor's formalism and formality serve a creative muse that is anything but dated. Taylor dances flood the theater with his insatiable curiosity and heart. Thanks to the University Musical Society, Taylor shares a thrilling selection of works from his long career over a two-night stand at the Power Center Friday and Saturday, October 8 and 9.

Over the years Taylor has created more than 100 dances, which divide roughly into three categories: breezy and lyrical; humorous character studies; and starkly pessimistic. But such capsules gloss an essential dualistic worldview. Like any good reporter, Taylor likes to mix it up.

Representing Taylor's rosy side, on the Saturday program, is Arden Court (1981), a classic Baroque showcase for the company, especially Taylor's male dancers, that swoons with life-affirming energy. On the Friday bill, Eventide (1997) evokes a twilight country stroll, as five couples amble in simple patterns to a score by Ralph Vaughan Williams and part in the end. Nothing fancy — the feeling is paramount.

Each evening's closing piece falls in Taylor's "dark" column. Promethean Fire (2002) has been broadly read as a response to the September 11 terrorist attacks, although Taylor remains coy, instead citing Disney's Fantasia as the inspiration. No matter. The piece courses with Taylor's signature humanism — dancers reach and collapse in grand thematic patterns before a winged apotheosis.

In Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal) (1980), two parallel narratives — a dance rehearsal and a detective story set in Chinatown — mirror the jazzy Stravinsky arrangement for two pianos. Characters sneak and spring in a spiky two-dimensional universe, like a Pink Panther cartoon or Egyptian hieroglyphs. How Taylor sews it all together is a feat of immense choreographic sophistication.

Toward the end of Dancemaker, when asked to describe his creative "process," Taylor flashes a sly grin: "I don't know what I'm doing, let's face it!" Don't believe him.