By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  February 28, 2006

Although the dancing in any Curran piece is a pleasure to watch, his group pieces give the dancers’ physical and histrionic skills a bigger framework. In "Aria/Apology," which was getting its New York premiere, orchestral numbers and gorgeous arias by Handel alternate with lo-fi telephone confessions by the perpetrators of gruesome crimes (from Allan Bridge’s The Apology Line). In this macabre juxtaposition, and in some of its offbeat designs, the dance suggested Paul Taylor’s booby-trapped pleasantries. Scarpin’s weighted, precarious solo reminded me of Taylor’s memorable performance long ago in Aureole, only Scarpin spread his big, plush movement out into the space, traveling and elaborating on the issue of balance.

Curran also made a charming new piece for 13 Boston Conservatory dancers that premiered two weeks ago at the conservatory’s winter concerts. Set to Stravinsky’s suite, "Pulcinella (A Post Modern Baroque Approach)" offered a series of group dances, duets, and solos that gave the young performers both a dancing and a dramatic challenge.

Curran made passing reference to the commedia dell’arte characters of the original ballet, and he developed a sketchy plot laced with jealousy, a lovers’ quarrel, commiseration, reconciliation, and a wedding. The musical numbers all had amusing if superfluous narrative subtitles — for instance, “Allegretto: The Lovers Cheer Up Pimpinella with a Funky Skipping Dance.”

What I loved about the piece was its mixture of dance styles that never became distracting — somehow the “postmodern Baroque” could incorporate batches of ballet, boogie, jigging, line dances, cakewalk, and African movement without looking like the kitchen sink. And Curran was able to draw out the young dancers to project specific characters and wield their attitude in the service of formal choreography.

Emiko Tokunaga designed their modish dancewear, in black-and-white geometric-patterned fabrics with red trim, and Beatrice Jona Affron conducted the student orchestra in the wonderfully rowdy but disciplined score.

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