Three dances show the essence of Tharp
The iconic dance choreographer and Broadway veteran Twyla Tharp has earned her place among American dance makers with more than 150 works under her belt. Some pieces glisten with the excitement of innovation. Others have fallen flat in an attempt at pattern over plot, or a postmodernist deadpan style.
And yet personal style seems most important to Tharp. That’s evident in the title of her latest program, Twyla Tharp and Three Dances by Twyla Tharp Dance, at New York City’s The Joyce Theater, which runs through July 23, but can also be observed via the steps shared in each piece.
Her latest ballet, Beethoven Opus 130, is showing alongside two other pieces of hers, one dates back 40 years, Country Dances, and the third, Brahms Paganini from 1980, is considered a Tharpian classic.
All three pieces showcase her trademark arm swings, experimentation with the relationship between staccato and delayed movements and a lack of plot or realistic human expression. For those intrigued by Tharp’s style, and interested in studying her methods rather than getting swept away by the performances, this triple bill delivers.
“Country Dances” ; John Selya, Eva Trapp, Amy Ruggiero, Kaitlyn Gilliland/ Twyla Tharp and Three Dances
A member of academia herself, it is no wonder Tharp injects many thought provoking (and perhaps maddening) questions about cohesiveness, creativity and community into her work. The third “c” here is displayed in the tableaus dancers often form in a separate quadrant of the stage while a soloist spins and thrashes elsewhere. As in Country Dances, when all three girls dance with a single male, we are forced to reconcile thoughts about patriarchy, gender and modern relationships.
Beethoven Opus 130 had less to say about these topics, but instead mimicked the music with its polytonal, or multilayered, elements. Costumes by fashion designer Norma Kamali, who was big in the 1980s, with ballet warm-ups style for most of the women and eclectic billowing tunics for the men, the piece attempted to be balletic but held true to Tharp’s trademarks.
Lastly, Brahms Paganini began with a long male solo that, by the end, reminded one of a tarantella dance (where legend has it that one dances until tarantula poison is expelled out of the body). Soloist Reed Tankersley performed it gracefully and dutifully yet his possible instructions to remain emotionless may have been breached from time to time. But who can blame him when the music is so overpoweringly passionate?
Following Tankersley’s performance, two couples dressed in preppy costumes by designer Ralph Lauren danced playfully and teasingly. Slight competitions between the men and women were indicative of a carefree culture, with only the idea of keeping up with the Joneses to occupy their time. However, one struggles to find parallels between the jovial choreography and that of the romantic musical score known for its emotional outpouring. Given Tharps’ apparent penchant for thought provoking juxtaposition, her reasoning may be justified yet.
(Top photo:Kaitlyn Gilliland & Matthew Dibble in Beethoven Opus 130 by Twyla Tharp. Photo by Yi-Chun Wu)