Review: Twyla Tharp Marks a Milestone
By Robert Greskovic
Dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp turned 80 earlier this year. To mark that milestone and to herald the return of her dances—which she’s been creating since 1965 and had moved to Zoom at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic—to the live stage, she has now created a four-part, two-hour show for City Center. Her performers include prominent members of New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, a ballet/Broadway dancer, plus a six-person ensemble of novices ranging in age from 14 to 21 years old.
The mix, with live and lively musical accompaniment from the Knights, an orchestral collective, makes for a compelling program that peaks just before the intermission; what follows after the break is an engaging if at times miscellaneous-seeming display for all the dancers. Some of the works are adjusted restagings of previous dances, while the new ones include choreographic quotes from Ms. Tharp’s past efforts. Tharp fans and newcomers alike should find plenty to intrigue and entertain them.
The high point is the eight-section “Pergolesi,” set to selections of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s 18th-century compositions for strings and harpsichord. The dance hails from 1992 and is a reworking of the original back-and-forth choreography that showcased Ms. Tharp and Mikhail Baryshnikov as teasing competitors.
“All In,” set to Brahms’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 120, is also a world premiere, though one stocked with inflections and moves familiar from the Tharp works that precede it on the program. Its comings and goings fill the stage with appearances by all the featured dancers, mostly front and center, plus the six ensemble dancers as background echoes.
This wrap-up shows the seasoned dancers—costumed in pale yellow unitards for the men and skirted tunics for the women—working in both pointe shoes and soft slippers, and acts to cap, if not quite climax, the performance with coupled and individual moves reminiscent of some that Ms. Tharp has used in the past to feature successive pairs of dancers. What gives “All In” its own sweet twist is the eager, energetic presence of its youngest dancers, all in boxy white T-shirts and black shorts as if dressed for summer camp; among these, lissome 16-year-old Brady Farrar stood out with his pliant stretch and classical finesse.
With its engaging mixture of dance and dancers, “Twyla Now” promotes the re-emergence of Ms. Tharp from Covid lockdown and a strong case that her “Pergolesi” should be seen more widely.