Paul Taylor Dance Company's Esplanade is usually a surefire closer. The finale where dancers slide and tumble across the stage usually has the audience in euphoria. However during this afternoon's performance there were quite a few tears in the audience. Esplanade was the last time the audience would ever see veteran Taylor dancers Michelle Fleet, Jamie Rae Walker and Parisa Khobdeh onstage.

Michelle Fleet and Paul Taylor Dance Company in Esplanade
© Paul B Goode

Paul Taylor passed away last year and since then the company has lost no less than eight dancers – Michael Trusnovec and Laura Halzak retired earlier this year, and Michael Novak left the stage to run the Paul Taylor Dance Company full-time. But this afternoon's mass farewell was an especially bittersweet occasion – these dancers have been dancing Esplanade for years. To think that the next time we see this work Michelle Fleet will not be the "running girl"... it's a lot for Taylor fans to process.

Eran Bugge in Diggity
© Paul B Goode

Perhaps to offset the sadness of the occasion the final program of the season started with one of Paul Taylor's sunniest works, Diggity, in which dancers play among a sea of cute dog cutouts. The score by Donald York is gentle and lilting, with a folk flavor. The dancers cavort happily. A woman (Eran Bugge) is held aloft in a split position and she rotates 360 degrees in the same position. At one point the dancers are behind a cabbage patch, then a sunflower. Heather McGinley was striking as the pink bikini girl who adds a bit of naughtiness to the fun.

Pam Tanowitz's all at once followed Diggity. The music was Bach's Violin Concerto in A minor and the Oboe Sonata in G Minor. The costumes by Harriet Jung and Reid Bartelme are billowy pantsuits with a white gauzy drape connected from the shoulder to the ankle. She uses almost the entire company, 17 dancers.

Lee Duveneck and Alex Clayton in all at once
© Paula Lobo

Tanowitz is an intelligent choreographer with an interesting dance vocabulary. There are many echoes of Merce Cunningham in all at once – the sometimes random-seeming arrangement of dancers in space, the long-held outstretched balances, the one-legged jumps with the other leg bent inward. What Tanowitz doesn't have is organization. all at once goes on for too long, and the comings and goings of the huge herd of dancers is confusing.

The best moments of all at once were when Tanowitz cleared the stage and one could admire the unique shapes she created for the dancers. Once was a long solo danced by Maria Ambrose that conveyed a sculptural stillness. Another was a duet between Michelle Fleet and Lee Duverneck that took unabashed pleasure in showing off the strength of both of these dancers. Duvernick ended the work alone onstage doing a plank.

During the curtain calls of all at once longtime Paul Taylor musical collaborator Donald York was brought onstage. He too is retiring. He was given bouquets and sobbed visibly throughout the curtain calls.

Paul Taylor Dance Company in Esplanade
© Paul B Goode

Esplanade needs no introduction; like Merce Cunningham's Summerspace or Alvin Ailey's Revelations, it's foolproof. The performance was at the quality we expect from Taylor dancers. All the famous moments were performed with brio; the running, the skipping, the the sliding, the leaps into each others' arms. So when the final curtain fell and the stage was awash with bouquets one wondered why Fleet, Khobdeh, Walker, Mahoney, and Kleinendorst were retiring (the last two on 13 December).

But I suppose that's the best thing one can possibly wonder at a retirement performance. These classy dancers left the stage before the stage left them.

This review was amended on 17 November after we were informed that Robert Kleinendorst and Sean Mahoney do not retire from the Company until December 13.