Performing Arts: Dance
September 22, 2017
Despite the nagging memory of original casts performing innovative works by Twyla Tharp, a new generation of audience members will do well to experience two Tharp revivals and a premier work at the Joyce Theater.

Opening night, folks got to witness two vintage dance, Raggedy Dances (1972) and Fugue (1970) as well as an Entr’Acte and the premiere of Dylan Love Songs.

Most striking is Tharp's sophisticated interaction with music. Her choreography interacts with a score the same way a sophisticated jazz musician explodes a jazz standard by layering rhythmic dynamics over the melodic base.

In Raggedy Dances, smoothly performed by Daniel Baker, Dellie Drobnick, Kaitlyn Gilliland, Kara Chan and Matthew Dibble, the nonchalant Tharp style is there to see favoring a cool attitude, mobile heads, liquid knees and agile torsos sliding over hips lowered to the ground. Another Tharp hallmarks features lightening quick facing changes punched into a still shot. Antony Tudor as well as other great choreographers understood the power of stillness, something today’s choreographers might note. Pianist Joseph Mohan mirrored the dance by sliding effortlessly from Scott Joplin’s rags and Charles Luckeyth Roberts jazz, to William Bolcom and Mozart.

The current cast is accomplished technically and well versed in Tharp technique, but one can see their minds working -- calculating the next step, phrase or pattern. In fairness, that's because frequently Tharp demands all parts of the body move in counterpoint, so arms go one way, while heads swing away from legs twisting into and from torsos.

By flipping her sequences forward, backward and inside out—particularly in Fugue, performed in silence by three dancers, Tharp dances demand as much from the mind as the body. Like others of her generation, Tharp builds mathematical movement compounds around musical structures, but in these early compositions, Tharp’s dancers imbued the compositions with heavy doses of personality.

The Entr’Acte brought Tharp to the stage in a pair of sweat pants and shirt in a mock rehearsal. That led to a quippy dance with vintage Tharp dancer John Selyea that was part vaudeville, part soft shoe and campy drill. By the way, in her youth, Tharp was a compelling dancer and still exudes that indefinable “something.” Early company members who inhaled the Tharp style, like the Selyea, still expresses an ease and breath through the form.

Some years ago, Tharp choreographed The Times They Are a-Changin’ a short-lived Broadway show to a score of Dylan songs. She returned to Dylan in her premiere Dylan Love Songs. Both Gilliland (former NYCB dancer) and Reed Tankerseley (Juilliard graduate) soared in their respective solos bubbling with balletic steps joined to Tharp slides and woozy spins. Additonally, Selyea slithered out wearing an outsized, long black coat, back to audience casting a shadow over the proceedings – a nod to Dylan? However, the overall choreography performed over Dylan’s abstract poetry lost focus and the usual Tharp punch.

Long time collaborator, the lighting designer Jennifer Tipton imbued all the dance scenes with a subtle emotional depth and Santo Loquasto designed the loose, body flattering costumes.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

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