I imagine that I was not the only one who went to the Kravis Center to see the Twyla Tharp 50th Anniversary Tour show on Feb. 17 with the expectation that I would see an array — a sampler — of her best hits.
But instead, there were just two works on the program: Preludes and Fugues, which was created especially for the tour, and Nine Sinatra Songs (1982) which is probably Tharp’s most viewed work as it is a staple in the repertories of many ballet companies worldwide.
Both works were ebulliently danced by the 12 dancers who formed the present touring company. Many of these performers have been working with Tharp, project by project, for years and even though it is not a full-time dance company, it is clear that these dozen dancers are all fully committed artistically to working with Tharp.
Though the two works presented were thoroughly enjoyable, I did leave the theater with a nagging sensation that there could have been more in this program that highlighted the 50 years of creativity of one of America’s most distinctively American choreographers.
But on the other hand, the 43-minute Preludes and Fugues seemed to contain just about every move and mood that I have come to know from Tharp’s choreography. So much so, it seemed to serve as a medley of all her past works.
Using 22 pieces from Johann Sebastian Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier (which is regarded as one of the most influential works in the Western classical music tradition), Tharp created her own movement “history” in this one work.
For many decades, Tharp had a daily routine of going into the studio and videoing while she created movement. She has thousands of hours of movement sequences which she culled through and used in Preludes and Fugues.
The new creation (which might actually be considered a type of re-creation) is a substantial work that more than highlights that the 75-year-old Tharp is still a master in her craft of putting steps together.
Full of life and filled with variety, the work started slowly and intimately with highly recognizable Tharpesque movement. It transitioned from the light and casual duets to a series of trios that were interspersed with various groupings of the other dancers.
All of the performers were distinctive and appealing moving in their own personal way — Tharp has always valued individualism in her dancers — as they smoothly moved through the 43 minutes of nonstop dancing
The eye-catching Kara Chan, dressed in a teal version of the women’s rather dated costume design by Santo Loquasto, was a joy to watch. Her clean and sharp movement was filled with varied nuanced qualities.
Ron Todorowski also drew focus. Lean and lanky, Todorowski is a versatile dancer who also has a theatrical depth. In an unexpectedly somber section, he danced a solo that was filled with pained facial expression.
Right from the start of the work, one reacted to the familiar quirky Tharp steps being set to this famous Bach music. There didn’t seem to be much symbiosis and by the end, the residual feeling was that this combination was indeed an odd match that wasn’t fully realized.
Tharp has always been bold with the popular music she chose to pair with her choreography. The most famous is Deuce Coupe, her ground-breaking work to the iconic songs of the Beach Boys, which she created for the Joffrey Ballet in 1973 and is now known as the “crossover ballet,” as it embraced both modern dance and classical ballet at the same time.
In the easy, breezy Nine Sinatra Songs that ended Friday’s program, there is no denying that part of the great appeal of this elegantly entertaining work is its wonderful music. The smooth songs that Frank Sinatra immortalized resonate in every romantic’s heart.
In the series of seven duets, couples danced under the spinning mirror ball of a dance hall giving us hints of the waltz, the tango and the quickstep as well as hints of the dynamics in their relationship. Add beautiful ladies stylishly dressed in Oscar de la Renta evening dresses and satin high heels, and dapper men dressed in black tuxedos and white evening shirts and the mood is totally winsome.
Mary Beth Hansohn and Peter Cursin were wonderfully engaging in “One For My Baby” and Amy Ruggiero and Matthew Dibble were full of energy and sass in “Forget Domani.” Todorowski stood out again in “That’s Life,” where at the end of his duet, he stood on the edge of the stage casually putting on his jacket and just in the nick of time managed to catch Romona Kelley as she hurled herself into the air.
When you look back at Tharp’s body of work, which includes 129 dances, 12 television specials, six Hollywood movies, four full-length ballets, four Broadway shows and two figure skating routines, one has to admire her artistic grit. She has also written four books, received one Tony Award, two Emmy Awards and 19 honorary doctorates.
Not bad for someone who said that she started choreographing over 50 years ago just to “have a good time.”