Twyla Tharp: "Each of the dances is my hope for a perfect world"

During the pandemic, Twyla Tharp did what most choreographers did: she worked on Zoom. A lot. “All the time I was wondering, well, whe...


During the pandemic, Twyla Tharp did what most choreographers did: she worked on Zoom. A lot. “All the time I was wondering, well, when are we actually going to put the bodies back in real places at real times?” she said in a recent interview. “And that was not possible until relatively very recently.”

She wasn’t referring to the bubbles, she said, but to the flood of performances that made this fall season almost as robust as the others. But before anyone could predict that, she was determined to put on a show. And so at 80, Tharp used what she had: a milestone birthday.

“We used my age to make it a night out,” she said with a laugh. “You know, I’m not ashamed. Whatever the cost. That’s what I did. Nothing new there.

What is new is the program she created. While Tharp has presented work parties for the past few years, none have felt as poignant and cutting edge, as charming and as wise in their mix of past and present, as “Twyla Now”, which she will unveil. To Downtown New York starting Wednesday. It’s the right dances, the right dancers, at the right time.

The cast includes members of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theater and New York City Ballet, as well as six ensemble dancers, aged 14 to 21, who represent the future of Tharp, as all young dancers do. She found them on the Internet. When Savannah Kristich, a competitive dancer and the youngest, received an email from Tharp out of the blue, she basically packed her bag on the spot. “He’s a living legend,” said Kristich, who lives in Las Vegas. “She changed her dance the story. “

Kristich, wild but precise, has a Tharpian penchant for his dance. She likes to feel free. She knows that many young dancers worry about what they look like in other people’s eyes when they move; not her. “I do what I think is right for me, and she’s a huge inspiration about it,” Kristich said of Tharp.

Young actors join the professionals in the program’s final dance, “All In,” a Brahms premiere, in which moments from the show’s previous works – three duets – float like bursts of phantom choreography. Phrases from the past mingle with those from the present in a feat of structural counterpoint.

It is a signature of Tharp, but it is also his way of saying that the past and the present are equal entities. “I would kind of be naked just trying to start from scratch,” she said, “without a reference, without using the basics that I already have.”

For the program, she starts with works that she already has – sort of. The first of the three is the simplest: the rousing “Cornbread,” a duet from 2014, danced by Tiler Peck and Roman Mejia of the New York City Ballet and set to music by string group Carolina Chocolate Drops. It is a virtuoso demonstration of daring speed and sparkling musicality.

“Everyone is going to go there, she’s crazy,” Tharp said. “That was the end, wasn’t it?” When do we open with the end? What do you do after?”

The answer lies in a pair of dances that bring vintage choreography to life in new ways. For the new “Second Duet”, danced by Ailey’s James Gilmer and Jacquelin Harris, Tharp unearthed the improvisations she performed with Kevin O’Day in 1991 while she was devoting herself to bodybuilding.

Set to music by Thomas Larcher, “Second Duet” requires superhuman strength and confidence: a deployment of lifts and dips that the dancers seem to invent on the spot. In aerial balances, the woman, far from being passive, relies on the strength of her upper back to support her weight. You see the effort and the struggle, but there is also something else involved.

For Tharp, after the elite athleticism of “Cornbread”, the new dance “shows what it takes to be a human,” she said. “Trying to relate to another person is the subject of this whole duo – and it is, in fact, the subject of all the pairs.”

Gilmer and Harris spent months learning the movement from archival footage. It starts off as a sort of battle and becomes more playful over time – but also more vulnerable as the dancers continue their conversation by falling and grabbing, supporting and controlling – the principles of modern dance. “It’s knocking down walls and removing layers to be your most honest self,” Harris said.

“Pergolesi” is a different kind of experience. For this, Tharp took a duet that she choreographed for herself and Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1992, and put it on Robbie Fairchild, a former director of the City Ballet and Tony nominated for the Broadway musical. “An American in Paris”, and Sara Mearns, a director of the City Ballet known to extend far beyond ballet. (During the program, Mearns performs in jazz shoes, pointe shoes, and ballet shoes – an athletic stunt, Tharp says.)

There are twists and turns. The first is that they learn the dance – which has never been performed in exactly the same way – from a video of a specific performance. The other is that Fairchild will dance the role of Tharp while Mearns will face that of Baryshnikov.

“It’s the return of the ghosts, isn’t it?” Tharp said in a recent rehearsal while surveying Fairchild and Mearns.

At first, the prospect of becoming one of those ghosts – Baryshnikov – was intimidating for Mearns. “I was like, WhatShe said. “There’s no way I can do that. Let’s be honest here. No one can be Misha. No one. He’s one in a lifetime. But again, you know me: I will never say no.

In the duo – competitive, playful, arduous – the two dancers never touch each other. “It’s androgynous in a way,” Mearns said. “When you watch the video of the performance, it’s not a man, a woman. These are two incredibly independent human beings doing their thing.

She doesn’t watch Tharp when studying the video, only Baryshnikov, whose “abundance of strength is unlike any other,” she said. “He was so grounded and nothing was ever turned off. It was like he was blunt all the time. There was no back and forth, no flying arms. And it was difficult for him to not be on it. My favorite place is off, ”meaning she likes to move away from a balance, transforming a seemingly fixed position into movement.

For his part, Fairchild feels close to Tharp. As he said, “We’re in the ballet world, but we like to brighten it up.”

In the duet, he feels his physique change as soon as he begins to dance; shrinking his chest, he tries to become her. “It’s fun to think about who she is too – as a trailblazer, as a choreographer in a man’s world,” said Fairchild. “It was that little firecracker that had just stuck it to the man, dancing alongside the greatest ballet dancer of all time.” The world she created for herself was hard won.

“Pergolesi” is meticulous work. In a solo, Fairchild performs Tharp’s improvised version of what she just saw Baryshnikov dance; in another, Mearns refers to roles from Baryshnikov’s classical repertoire, which expands the gender experience even further: here she doesn’t just dance a male part, she dances male parts of the classical ballet canon. .

It can get confusing. During a rehearsal, Fairchild was stuck. “What are we saying here? he asked Tharp for a moment of lower energy than usual.

“We say dropout,” she said. “The guy is exhausted.

The guy is Mearns, that is, Baryshnikov. At this point he is dead. “You come in and you actually have the tiniest bit of compassion. Very small! But you have a little touch of compassion here.

Mearns howled with laughter. She likes how in dancing, Tharp – now Fairchild – has the last laugh. “I’m finishing and I think she’s going to finish, but then she continues,” Mearns said later. “I think it’s so her, law? She’s like, it’s my dance, I did that.

While demonstrating another vision of partnership – in many ways the program is also a study of partnership – “Pergolesi” is part of a larger picture: the diversity that exists in Tharp’s vision. “You go back and forth between all these disparities: racial diversity, sexual diversity, gender, stylistics, and you come to a point in common,” she said. “And that, for me, has always been a big part of what dances do. They are a societal statement of possibility, of inclusion.

How to understand and see things? When many different dance styles coexist on a stage – Tharp was the first choreographer to create a crossover ballet, mixing ballet and modern dance – what is created? It comes down to her message for the evening and what she’s been trying to say from the start, when in the 1970s she worked intimately with a group of women of varying sizes and shapes, from different dance backgrounds and from different cultures.

“It’s all about the community,” she said. “Each of the dances is my hope for a perfect world where people can truly correspond, communicate, grow together, work together, respect together. And the more diversity there is, the wider the spectrum, the happier the world. What else is new here? That’s what dancing does.



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Newsrust - US Top News: Twyla Tharp: "Each of the dances is my hope for a perfect world"
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