She assembled a group of fine dancers, including a veteran, John Selya and a number of eager youngsters who did her proud. As technically smooth as they were, for a while none stood out. There wasn’t much charisma emanating from stage. That is, until the final work “Yowzie,” choreographed to jazz songs ranging from blues to swing. Dressed in Santo Loquasto’s eccentrically layered and colored costumes—vaguely hippy, kind of ethnic—the cast sped through this romp led by the brilliant couple Matthew Dibble (macho and sweet at the same time) and Rika Okamoto (terrific even when standing still) who flirt, mate, part, wreak vengeance and, happily, re-unite by the end. Tharp used every theatrical shtick in the book: chorus lines, winks at the audience, oddball lifts, classical ballet steps, her famous loose-armed walk, undulating hips, shimmying shoulders, all giving “Yowzie” a strange smart-ass Cirque du Soleil-meets-“Friends” ambiance.
At least the music of “Yowzie” was open to Tharp’s loose, loony choreographic treatment. The music of Bach, as in “Preludes and Fugues,” didn’t go well with Tharp’s antic movement ideas. Dressed in Loquasto’s pale outfits, including, for the women short dresses with horizontal trim and decorative hair bits (bringing to mind his work for Tharp in the very early, seventies), the company entered in small groups. Tharp just couldn’t help inserting squiggly accents of shoulders and feet or distorted ballet steps that fit heavy-handedly with the pure Bach. There’s no reason not to find humor in or diddle with Bach’s divinely perfect music (again, check out Paul Taylor and his masterpiece “Esplanade”), but
Tharp’s movement themes were totally at odds with this score. Tharp never addressed the mathematical perfection of Bach’s forms which elicit deep emotions and awe. Her devil-may-care movement style felt more like showing off than a real exploration of the score.
Each of the two parts of the program began with a “Fanfare,” dressed in the costumes for the longer works which succeeded these choreographic miniatures. The “First Fanfare,” to a rousing John Zorn score, served mainly to introduce the company. The best choreography of the evening, however, was the “Second Fanfare” also to music by John Zorn, a procession in silhouette against a shocking red backdrop (the brilliant lighting for this—and all the works—by James F. Ingalls). This parade left an almost poignant impression: a troupe of hard-working performers, cavorting as themselves, en route to “Yowzie”’s theatrical stunts and adventures.
There were, to put a fine point on it, too much movement oddly matched to great music.
This comment may remind some of the Emperor in Amadeus who chastised Mozart for using “too many notes,” but, in fifty years Ms. Tharp has journeyed from spare and experimental to lush and mainstream. Maybe she needs to retrace her steps a bit, a take some hints from her more ascetic past. Too many steps dressed in too fancy costumes don’t always add up to art.
Twyla Tharp 50th Anniversary (November 17-22, 2015)
David H. Koch Theater, 20 Lincoln Center Plaza, at 63rs Steeet, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-496-0600 or visit http://www.davidhkochtheater.com
Running time: one hour and 50 minutes including one intermission