Pair of Tharp premieres dazzles at TITAS season opener

Twyla Tharp Dance
Dallas News

Preludes and Fugues is a good dance that ought to be great when repetition on the road turns it a bit saltier.

Yowzie, as it is and was on opening night of Twyla Tharp’s 50th Anniversary Tour, immediately enters the pantheon of heart-stopping works by one of the most inventive choreographers of the 20th century.

Still at it in the 21st at age 74, Tharp and her crack company of 12 dancers lived up to the massive buildup to this pair of world premieres by delivering a funny, complex and thrilling evening Friday at Winspear Opera House to open the TITAS Presents season.

Opening night’s other heroine was Rita Okamoto, who has danced for Tharp for 20 years and stood out in Preludes and Fugues before outright stealing Yowzie with her acting chops.

Both pieces opened with fanfares to commissioned music by contemporary jazz composer John Zorn that hinted at the controlled chaos to come.

Preludes and Fugues is a loose-limbed ballet of the type that Tharp pioneered in the 1970s, juxtaposing classical vocabulary of pirouettes and jetés with slinky jazz moves and storytelling gestures that give the work its soul.

Set to the series of Bach’s key-spanning preludes and fugues that he called The Well-Tempered Clavier, it opened with a couple ballroom dancing and built from there with other duets, sometimes several happening at once in endless permutations — another Tharp trademark.

Sudden speed and direction changes fueled by Bach’s shifting tempos created complexity without becoming jarring.

The accents of humor and personality that informed Preludes and Fugues took center stage in Yowzie, which is set to a suite of blues and jazz tunes performed by Henry Butler, Steve Bernstein and the Hot 9, including numbers written by early Tharp favorite Jelly Roll Morton.

Dressed in crazy-colorful getups by Santo Loquasto that looked like Carnival gone psychedelic, the dancers became clowns. Their movement was inspired by the slapstick comedy of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin touched by Tharp’s genius for spacing the floor and creating multiple centers of action.

As the main couple, Okamoto and Matthew Dibble’s characters emerged extremely drunk and gaped at by their only slightly less inebriated compatriots. Whether stumbling, swaying or just walking gingerly, they showed humans at their funniest-worst.

Yowzie built to the point of such swirling, continuous antics that the viewer could only keep up with everything going on because of Tharp’s ability to draw attention from one part of the stage to another.

Yowzie is one of the most electric large-group pieces in the Tharp oeuvre, up there with Upper Room and The Golden Section, populist high art capable of pleasing both dance aficionados and the masses.
Read the rest of the review here