Twyla Tharp and Three Dances
by Wickham Boyle
Tuesday Jul 12, 2016
Twyla Tharp is a 73-year-old pixie with lots of attitude who has shaped the flow and flux of modern dance. Tharp began her dance career in 1965 spinning a yo-yo while arched forward like a ski jumper, in her first piece, called “Tank Dive.” It was performed at Hunter College after her graduation from Barnard College. 2016 marks her fiftieth anniversary of dancing, choreographing and the Joyce Theater is part of a global celebration of her work.
Although raised in the Midwest and California, Tharp is a citizen of the world who has created work that shakes audiences, reviewers, fans and foes to their core. Tharp created dances to “Sinatra on Broadway,” and work for classic ballet companies worldwide. Her 1973 work “Deuce Coupe” is heralded as the first to mix modern and classical dance moves all to the beat and blare of the Beach Boys. Her Broadway musicals include “Movin Out,” “Come Fly Away,” and her choreography electrifies films like “Hair,” “Amadeus,” and “White Nights.”
She has written three books, her 2003 book, “The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life.” provides life skills for the creative outlaw. She is a mother, a grandmother and the mother hen to many dancers who have passed through her tutelage and heard her roar, and rage. Until July 23 audiences can thrill to “Twyla Tharp and Three Dances,” three very different Tharp dances from favorites to a premiere.
Tharp has joked that she was named for a champion hog caller and her 1976 piece called “Country Dances” seems to hearken to a county fair where four dancers jockey, arabesque and joke wildly to country music like “Took My Gal A’Walkin,” and “Rat Cheese under the Hill.” There are seven different, often hilarious songs and dances to tickle the soul. Tharp has a wonderful way of making us laugh at the usual by upending it.
A pas de deux might just as well be two men, women as the duo, or in this case a very tall, elegant, amazing dancer Kaitlyn Gilliland partnering with the hapless John Seyla who seems to be astounded and often wonderfully tricked by moves made by Gilliland, as well as Amy Ruggiero and Eva Trapp. The four are costumed by Santo Loqusato in mock county gear, embroidered shirts, flare skirts and they whirl across the stage, vie for attention or just up and leave the stage and storm off. It is classic Tharp; funny, irreverent and beautifully wrought so that the audience never anticipates the next step or the next giggle.
The second offering, “Beethoven Opus 130” is a New York City premiere; the world bow was June at Saratoga. Here the full company, eight dancers, Matthew Dibble, Kaitlyn Gilliland, Daniel Baker, Ramona Kelly, Amy Ruggiero, Eva Trapp, Nicholas Coppula, and Reed Tankersley take the stage in marvelous Norma Kamali costumes with evocative lights provided by Stephen Terry. This piece is pure elegance and combustible energy.
The dancers take form as twosomes, or as a full flock of black birds flitting and flying across a bare stage. Again it is diva Gilliland who captivates in a stunning way. Even though there are seven other dancers performing with bravura gusto one can not stop watching Gilliland in her flowing tulle with appendages that seem to elongate with every pirouette and grand jete. Here again the partnering morphs and confuses, the classical mixes with the Marx Brothers and everyone is seduced. It shows that Tharp in on point to perfection even as the decades unfold.
The evening’s final piece is “Brahms Paganini” from 1980. Jennifer Tipton’s lights bath the Greek god-like Reed Tankersley in white light as he performs a daunting solo dressed in Ralph Lauren’s pure white trousers and shirt. He spins and leaps pretending to lose his way, only to start and stop and beguile us over and over in the portion entitled Book I.
At moments the audience gasps can be heard as the work becomes acrobatic and then back to endless turns and leaps on and off the wings. He is finally joined by the rest of the company in Book II all performed to “Brahms Variations on a Theme By Paganini Opus 35.”
By the final curtain call the house was on their feet screaming as Twyla Tharp was hauled up onto the stage and lifted as a conquering hero. She proceeded to mug and gracefully bow while grinning ear to ear. A perfect elf who had once again created magic.
“Twyla Tharp and Three Dances” runs through July 23 at The Joyce Theater, 175 Eight Avenue in NYC. For tickets or information, call 212-242-0800 or visit http://www.joyce.org