Mus­cle mem­o­ries

Twyla Tharp’s 50th An­niver­sary Tour

Pasatiempo - - CONTENT - Michael Wade Simp­son I For The New Mex­i­can

The first piece Twyla Tharp chore­ographed was for her­self and four other dancers. Tank Dive pre­miered at New York’s Hunter Col­lege in 1965. Tharp walked out in a pair of high-heeled shoes and vig­or­ously hurled a yo-yo to­ward the floor as Pe­tula Clark’s pop hit “Down­town” be­gan to play. Ac­cord­ing to Tharp’s web­site, the ti­tle refers to her “belief that be­com­ing a suc­cess­ful chore­og­ra­pher is equiv­a­lent to the chances of suc­cess­fully div­ing into a thim­ble­ful of wa­ter from a great height.”

Fifty years later, there is no ques­tion that Tharp has made a suc­cess for her­self in dance. She has chore­ographed works for her own group as well as for var­i­ous bal­let com­pa­nies, movies, and Broad­way. Her awards in­clude a Tony and two Em­mys, and she has re­ceived 19 honorary doc­tor­ate de­grees, a MacArthur Fel­low­ship, and a 2008 Kennedy Cen­ter honor. “They don’t give Os­cars for chore­og­ra­phy,” she told Pasatiempo. There was no master plan on this jour­ney, how­ever. “When op­por­tu­ni­ties came, I took the jobs that ap­pealed to me. I know dancers and vo­cab­u­lar­ies. I de­sign where they live and bring it into fo­cus. I ask what can I do that hasn’t al­ready been done.”

Her cur­rent com­pany’s one-night en­gage­ment at the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter on Tues­day, Sept. 22, is part of a mul­ti­c­ity tour to celebrate half a cen­tury of mak­ing such dances. With a group of 13 hand­picked dancers, many of whom have worked with her on other projects, she cre­ated two new pieces in­stead of re­con­struct­ing her great­est hits. Any­one cu­ri­ous about ear­lier works can find a ver­i­ta­ble Twyla Tharp mu­seum online, with a chronol­ogy of “one hun­dred twenty-nine dances, twelve tele­vi­sion spe­cials, six Hol­ly­wood movies, four full-length bal­lets, four Broad­way shows, and two fig­ure skat­ing rou­tines.”

Tharp be­gan study­ing with lead­ing mod­ern dance and bal­let teach­ers in New York while she was a stu­dent at Barnard Col­lege in the early 1960s and briefly danced with the Paul Tay­lor Com­pany. She be­gan per­form­ing in art mu­se­ums, gyms, and out­door spa­ces. Many dancers and chore­og­ra­phers of the time were re­ject­ing the angst and lyri­cism of the pi­o­neer­ing Martha Graham gen­er­a­tion. They of­ten danced with­out mu­sic, us­ing pedes­trian move­ments and re­ject­ing tra­di­tional the­atri­cal val­ues. “Ev­ery­body was liv­ing down­town in illegal lofts in those days,” Tharp said. “There was some amaz­ing art hap­pen­ing down­town — Frank Stella, Bar­nett New­man, Ellsworth Kelly. We all felt like we were out­laws — op­er­at­ing out­side of so­ci­ety.”

She started her own com­pany in 1965 and even­tu­ally turned her back on the ranks of down­town dance artists like Merce Cun­ning­ham and the Jud­son Dance Theater min­i­mal­ists. Un­like many of those dancers, Tharp had been head­ing to the Up­per West

Side to take bal­let classes. In 1973, she had a ca­reer­mak­ing op­por­tu­nity — to cre­ate a dance for the Jof­frey Bal­let. The piece was Deuce Coupe, a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween her own com­pany and the Jof­frey, set to mu­sic by The Beach Boys. In ad­di­tion, Deuce Coupe fea­tured graf­fiti artists on­stage spray-paint­ing the sets. Tharp’s way of mov­ing and work­ing was a de­par­ture for Jof­frey’s dancers. In Sasha Anawalt’s book about the com­pany, Re­becca Wright, one of the dancers, de­scribes Tharp con­fronting them. “Twyla just stood and said, ‘Look. Those of you in this room who do not want to work and do not like what I’m do­ing, I re­ally want you to leave.’ ... Three-quar­ters of the room left.”

The piece be­came a huge hit for the Jof­frey, and is of­ten de­scribed as the first cross­over dance — a com­bi­na­tion of mod­ern and clas­si­cal tech­niques. New Yorker mag­a­zine dance critic Ar­lene Croce called it a mas­ter­piece. “Her dancers seemed to be moved by a form of pri­vate com­mu­ni­ca­tion which made them un­like any other dancers that one could see,” she wrote. “Most of the time in Deuce Coupe, the dancers ap­pear to be be­hav­ing with such re­al­ism that we could be­lieve they were mak­ing it up as they went along.” Tharp of­ten jux­ta­poses clas­si­cal bal­let tech­nique with a free­wheel­ing style of move­ment that draws from jazz, tap, mod­ern dance, and mar­tial arts. “I use a strong iso­met­ric ap­proach to move­ment. There is a ground­ing in­volv­ing the spine and abs. We use force and power in all the move­ment — there is a lot of re­sis­tance,” she said. Croce wrote, “Tharp has a lo­gi­cian’s mind and a vaudevil­lian’s heart. The ten­sion be­tween the two is her hall­mark.”

On tour, the lo­gi­cian and the vaudevil­lian will once again be on dis­play. Pre­ludes and Fugues, set to ex­cerpts from J.S. Bach’s The Well-Tem­pered Clavier,

Vol­umes I/II, rep­re­sents the Apol­lo­nian ideal — “the world as it ought to be,” Tharp said. “Bach’s mu­sic is cir­cu­lar. The ge­om­e­try is a kind of in­fin­ity; the cir­cle em­bod­ies pre-So­cratic philoso­phies, a kind of per­fec­tion. It’s like ce­les­tial move­ment.” Yowzie, set to mu­sic from Viper’s Drag, a jazz com­pi­la­tion ar­ranged by Henry But­ler and Steven Bern­stein, is more “street. It’s Dionysian, the way life re­ally is.” Yowzie is built on char­ac­ters and re­la­tion­ships, she said. “There is a dys­func­tional cou­ple and ram­pant part­ner­ing.” Each dance is in­tro­duced by a “fanfare,” com­posed by John Zorn.

While Tharp per­formed in many of her early works and can be seen in the archival videos as a nim­ble and idio­syn­cratic dancer, at seventy-four, she no longer demon­strates her chore­og­ra­phy with any­thing like the fe­roc­ity she ex­pects from her dancers. “I can still think in a phys­i­cal way. In or­der to evolve move­ment ideas, you have to be on your feet. I still ex­e­cute things. I can still show them.” She looks for dancers with strong tech­nique but who can also act. Her Broad­way ex­pe­ri­ences, in­clud­ing Sin­gin’ in the Rain,

Movin’ Out (set to mu­sic by Billy Joel), and Come Fly Away (with songs sung by Si­na­tra), were chances to ex­pand mu­si­cal ideas into nar­ra­tive ones through dance. Work­ing in the movies, on the other hand, was some­times a style cram­per, she said. “Movies are time-con­sum­ing. There’s no op­por­tu­nity for one’s own think­ing. You’re hired to ser­vice a di­rec­tor and a script.” These di­rec­tors in­cluded Miloš For­man

(Hair, Rag­time, and Amadeus); Tay­lor Hack­ford (White Nights), and James L. Brooks (I’ll Do Any­thing).

For White Nights, Tharp teamed up again with the bal­let dancer Mikhail Barysh­nikov, whom she first worked with in cre­at­ing Push Comes to Shove for Amer­i­can Bal­let Theatre in 1976. “Mis­cha had per­fect pro­por­tions and im­pec­ca­ble clas­si­cal tech­nique. My own clas­si­cal tech­nique was ser­vice­able. But I had a sense of rhythm and move­ment that he wanted to un­der­stand. He wanted to look away from the mir­ror, to un­der­stand a dif­fer­ent kind of dance, to feel it in his body. For him, it wasn’t at all about how it looked.”

Danc­ing in the cur­rent tour are John Selya (who has been work­ing with Tharp since 1988), Rika Okamoto (for­merly in the Martha Graham Com­pany), Matthew Dib­ble (whom she dis­cov­ered at the Royal Bal­let), and Ron Todor­owski (who worked with Tharp on Broad­way). Newer to Tharp are Daniel Baker, Amy Rug­giero, Ra­mona Kel­ley, Ni­cholas Cop­pula, Eva Trapp, Sa­van­nah Low­ery, Reed Tanker­s­ley, Kait­lyn Gilliland, and Eric Otto, many of whom were dis­cov­ered in bal­let com­pa­nies pre­sent­ing Tharp works. Tanker­s­ley is the “baby,” just hav­ing re­cently grad­u­ated from Juil­liard.

Tharp’s prepa­ra­tions for the tour are doc­u­mented in a se­ries she is writ­ing for The New

York Times. On Sept. 8, she let read­ers in on a se­cret — that move­ments of the new Bach piece were ded­i­cated to some of the chore­og­ra­phers who had in­flu­enced her. Merce Cun­ning­ham’s sec­tion is re­ferred to by the dancers as “Slow Death.” She said that Cun­ning­ham taught her about still­ness. The Jerome Rob­bins sec­tion

hon­ors the com­pet­i­tive na­ture of his work (she col­lab­o­rated with him on 1984’s Brahms/Han­del for New York City Bal­let). Martha Graham was the in­spi­ra­tion for “Pre­lude in B Flat Mi­nor.” Tharp stud­ied with Graham and mar­veled at how much weight “a small body, mine or hers, ac­quires with in­tense train­ing and de­ter­mi­na­tion.” Then there is the “Fugue in A Flat Ma­jor” for Ge­orge Balan­chine. The dancers re­fer to this sec­tion as “The King and Queen,” and it re­flects the ten­sions be­tween the past and present in Balan­chine’s work.

To­day, 50 years af­ter her per­for­mance with the yo-yo, what Tharp has to say in her chore­og­ra­phy seems to be about what she has learned. “The ad­ven­ture here is to re­fer as much as pos­si­ble to the past, and to ren­der it uni­fied.”

Twyla Tharp in re­hearsal; op­po­site page, Rika Okamoto and Matthew Dib­ble in Yowzie; photo Ruven Afanador

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.