Twyla Tharp Dance, Joyce Theater, New York — review

Twyla Tharp Dance
Financial Times

This quintessentially American choreographer has an affinity for music of fearsome effort and endurance. Her 1980 Brahms Paganini unfolds, over half an hour, to 28 variations on a single, see-sawing theme; the dancing offers as many variations. The new Beethoven Opus 130 matches the composer’s Grosse Fuge — rowing against a riptide for a near eternity — with a dense sublimity of its own. Grace, according to Tharp, comes only after a Sisyphean climb — and on opening night, before an overflow crowd, her three dances and the dancers reached the peak.

With the programme’s two repertory pieces — both from the 75-year-old choreographer’s decade of ascent, the 1970s — the relentless invention is in the steps. As the voice of a square-dance caller suggests at its start, the quartet Country Dances is all about the pleasure of dancing. The solos are especially joyous, not only because they escape the predatory heterosexuality that creeps in whenever Tharp sets men and women together, but also because the dancing is the most taxing.

The architecture more than the movement carried Opus 130. The deeply layered eight-person ballet is Tharp’s answer to Balanchine’s La Valse. This time, Death (riveting Kaitlyn Gilliland) danced as much as her victim (Tharp veteran Matthew Dibble in bravura mode). And she had other things on her mind than luring him to his end. When Dibble was out of the picture, Gilliland was happy to join an evanescent chorus that emerged from the dark in Norma Kamali’s equally inky outfits or flitted from the wings like snow flurries. Even death, it turns out, is not immune to distraction — the background noise of life. 

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