A world without Lisa Viola dancing in it is unthinkable. But, in fact, this is her final season with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, which began a three-day run at the Annenberg Center on Thursday night.

If you've never seen Viola onstage, where she is the master of everything from anguished stillness to slapstick humor, you have only two more chances to do so. But there are plenty of other reasons to see the Taylor troupe - the 15 other cast members, all of whom are wonderful, plus two-thirds of the choreography (for Thursday's Program A, which will be repeated at today's matinee; Program B will be shown tonight).

Taylor's recent piece,

Lines of Loss

, is an abstract yet extraordinarily moving exploration of the human condition, depicting the many ways in which we love, age, struggle, die and mourn. Santo Loquasto's simple white costumes work well against his gorgeously textured black-and-white backdrop.

The choreographer's repeated use of silhouetted dancers, and the final segment in which red-robed figures process to religious-sounding music, complete with tolling bells, threaten to go over the top. But these moments are eclipsed by two virtuosic solos - one by Viola, in which she repeatedly executes slow, controlled backbends to the floor, and one by Michael Trusnovec, whose turn as an elderly man conveys the ravages of old age without becoming literal or cliched.

Still more remarkable is the duet by Viola and Trusnovec as alienated lovers who cannot seem to stay away from each other. Here, Taylor has created a series of unusual, challenging, and dramatically relevant poses that make this section seem eloquent, rather than simply acrobatic.

Esplanade

, created in 1975 to music by J.S. Bach, has long been the Taylor company's signature piece, and the current company members do it proud. The seemingly simple, everyday movements - walks, skips, runs - still seem fresh, and the rich emotional range of the various segments, from playful exuberance to tender yearning, is as affecting as ever.

Esplanade

was clearly new to some audience members, who gasped when the dancers dove into sliding falls or took running leaps into each other's arms. Here again, Viola played a major role, serving as the catalyst for other people's movements and exulting in the celebrated "leapfrog" sequence, in which she literally jumps over a line of her fellow dancers, twice.

But even the greatest choreographers can't come up with a masterpiece every time. And the less said about

Changes

, purportedly a reference to the turbulent decade of the 1960s, the better.