Review: Fugues, Rags and Dylan by Twyla Tharp. Oh, She Dances Too.

Twyla Tharp Dance
The New York Times

Twyla Tharp is a brand name twice over. She’s the maker of both a large, epoch-making body of choreography and a legendarily sensuous dance style.

And Tharpian style, though it has evolved over the years, is omnipresent throughout her current season, which began on Tuesday night at the Joyce Theater — and includes the world premiere of “Dylan Love Songs,” featuring the music of another brand name. The bill of fare, which runs until Oct. 8, also included a surprise — a new piece, “Entr’acte,” in which Ms. Tharp, 76, dances with her troupe, while talking as if in rehearsal.

It was especially good to see ’70s classics. “The Raggedy Dances,” though beloved, became a rarity; most audience members will be seeing it for the first time. It abounds in Tharpish ingenuity. To ragtime piano music by Scott Joplin, Charles Luckeyth Roberts and William Bolcom, admirably played by Joseph Mohan, dancers cross and recross the stage in cartoonlike horizontal paths, mainly in duos, all so lively and individual that they’re like classic vaudeville acts. Their punctuation alone — sudden stops between long, action-packed phrases — becomes the essence of wit; and their body language, with energy often rippling right up from the instep, is entirely engaging.

I’m especially entranced by Kaitlyn Gilliland: tall, elegant, alternately deadpan and twinkling. (We get to see her in all four pieces.) But every performer in Twyla Tharp Dance, as the company is called, is a singular sensation. The difference between Ms. Gilliland and the smaller, equally riveting Kara Chan tells us how happily catholic Ms. Tharp’s taste in dancers is.

The music changes to Mozart — his variations on “Ah, Vous Dirai-Je, Maman” (“Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”) — and the best fun is that you scarcely feel any gear change. “The Raggedy Dances” suggests that Mozart was a proto-ragtime composer, at least in this score. It’s astonishing how convincing this seems.

Until 1970, Ms. Tharp was an experimentalist who made dances without music. It remains remarkable how quickly she established herself as a musical choreographer, and a daring one, too. Often in “The Raggedy Dances” she leaves passages of dancy music unused, but elsewhere her troupe moves through the silent breaks between musical items. It’s as if we’re being allowed to hear most, but not all, of the scores that impel the dancers; she’s one of the rare choreographers who can bring this off persuasively.

“The Fugue,” even though it hasn’t been performed for 14 years, is less of a stranger. Wearing heeled shoes, its three performers, often facing the wings of the stage, perform a series of mini-fugues; they tap, clap, slap, and occasionally count through an enthralling range of structures. Upper bodies bend and arch formally; it’s a marvelously rigorous piece. It has been performed by three women or three men or a blend; the current arrangement, for two women (Ms. Chan and Ms. Gilliland) and one man (Reed Tankersley), is a compelling statement of gender equality. And I like very much Santo Loquasto’s current costumes, with glowingly russet shoes and belts offset by black shirts and trousers.
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