November 18, 2021
An icon of late 20th century modern dance, choreographer Twyla Tharp's "Deuce Coup" for the Joffrey Ballet in 1973 rattled the dance community. A skillful mix of ballet, and modern dance to a sunny Beach Boys soundtrack, Tharp's nonchalant style softened tight ballet knees, loosened dancers' necks and got a syncopated, funky shoulder and arm thing going.
Audiences were thrilled, and from that point on, Tharp charted a nearly 60 year career that spanned creative forays in modern dance, ballet, films, theater and writing.
She returned to City Center this fall with a "pick-up" company of stunning dancers. Working during COVID, Tharp revived two duets, created 1 new one and an ensemble work.
Perky and full of spunk, Tyler Peck (NYCB Principal) performed Cornbread along with the animated Roman Mejia (NYCB Soloist)to folksy music by the renown Carolina Chocolate Drops (an old-time string band from NC).
Illuminating her incomparable footwork, Peck trilled backward and forward on pointe. Bouncy jumps and high-stepping turns were reminiscent of hoe-downs where folks shared time together and swung their partners "round-and-round."
Darker in nature, Second Duet (World Premiere) to a score by Thomas Larcher and Aztec Camera, coupled two Ailey dancers: Jacquelin Harris and James Gilmer. Much smaller in size than Gilmer, Harris flipped Gilmer to the floor, and twisted his arm letting him know that she could do anything he could do better.
And in an amusing passage, Harris bent her knees, gripped the floor determined to prevent Gilmer from lifting her. The second half resembled a slow-motion aerial Lindy Hop sequence with over-head flips and a slow pull of Harris' body through Gilmer's legs and back up in the air.
When Mikhail Baryshnikov defected to America, he claimed he wanted the freedom to work with many different artists. One of his chosen choreographers was Tharp. Together they created a now famous duet Pergolesi to music by Pergolisi. Known for his breath-taking technique and dry wit, Baryshnikov was a foil to Tharp, the slinky, haughty modern dancer that could give as good as she got.
This time, Tharp assigned Misha's role to Sara Mearns (NYCB Principal) and Robbie Fairchild (former NYCB Principal, Broadway actor/dancer) assumed Tharp's role.
Technically demanding, the duet switched directions and energy levels with alacrity, and generated speed normally seen in Balanchine ballets.
Capable of the intricate footwork and technical brio, Mearns remained contained rather than releasing herself into the energy flow. On the other hand, Fairhild's years dancing many Robbins' works including Fancy Free and West Side Story, helped him sink into his knees, sway his hips and free his head with nonchalant panache.
The final World Premiere All In to Johannes Brahms was a combination of well crafted duets that featured the whole ensemble including Aran Bell, and Cassandra Trenary.
In a generous gesture, Tharp plucked young dancers to appear with the company after seeing them on various social media platforms. Giving young dancers a chance to shine on stage--particularly after a period of sequestration--was grand, but the manner in which they were grouped behind the principals muddied the overall ballet.
The straight-forward but effective lighting was by James Ingalls and costumes by Santo Loquasto. John Selya (a longtime Tharp dancer) serves as Artistic Associate and Mark Mongold is the Production Supervisor. One more thing: The evening was filled with live music.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis