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‘Twyla Tharp and Three Dances’ at the Joyce Theater Review

07.13.16
Twyla Tharp Dance
The Wall Street Journal

‘Twyla Tharp and Three Dances,” the mixed bill now playing at the Joyce Theater, indicates some of the range Ms. Tharp has explored as a choreographer with 51 years of dance making now to her credit. By her own count, the newest work on this bill, “ Beethoven Opus 130,” first shown in June in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., puts her canon of creations at 160.
The program’s other offerings, “Country Dances” (1976) and “ Brahms Paganini” (1980), come from Ms. Tharp’s groundbreaking past, where she usually prefers to let them remain as options for other groups to restage. Over the years—having blended and even skewed the ways of ballet, modern and social dancing—the choreographer has largely focused on using her time with her own dancers to create new work. “Art,” she asserts in the program, is “never finished.”
What feels beautifully finished in this current program is “Beethoven Opus 130,” a 20-minute, three-part dance featuring eight dancers, two of whom—statuesque Kaitlyn Gilliland and shorter Matthew Dibble—emerge as delicately and individually prominent. Especially so in the case of Mr. Dibble, whose singular presence caps the work with a gravitas that mates resonantly with Beethoven’s compelling G rosse Fuge for the dance’s extended conclusion. (All of the bill’s music is heard on tape at the Joyce.)
Ms. Tharp’s choreography for “Beethoven” breathes harmoniously in phase with its sometimes haunting, sometimes piquant music. Norma Kamali’s simple, stylish costuming clads its secondary women and men in lightly clinging black jersey that variously bares their limbs and even, with bat-wing sleeves on the men, alters their expected silhouettes. When—particularly in the skittery, presto first movement—Ms. Tharp has created quicksilver dancing involving fleet, fancy footwork and active limbs that shoot out sharply, the dancers can seem like so many sparking cinders.
When, repeating the bare-chested look briefly sported by Nicholas Coppula earlier in the dance, Mr. Dibble strips to the waist for the dance’s conclusion, the mood turns dramatic. Finally, having spun through permutations of silken, spiraling moves, the dancer arises alone. With his torso glistening and flushed from his exertions, Mr. Dibble stands up to face his fate as the curtain descends.
As for her “Country Dancers” and ”Brahms Paganini,” Ms. Tharp told the New York Times of likening their presence here to “pulling stuff out of the attic and seeing if it stands the light of day.”
In Santo Loquasto’s individual getups appliqued with patchwork quilting, the three women and one man in “Country Dances” take part in a not-so-square square dance, where the dancers buddy up and skid, shamble and slink to such rural American music as “Cacklin’ Hen and a Rooster Too” by the Skillet Lickers. What looked 40 years ago like a teasing back-and-forth for a quartet of competing dancers now feels more learned and dutiful than unpredictable and spontaneous.
All three dances are unmistakably Tharpian. The newest impressively plumbs the artistry of the dancers for whom it was especially created, continuing the choreographer’s command of her art. Read the rest of the review here