Twyla Tharp, the innovative dance pioneer and Kennedy Center Honors recipient, joins forces with the smooth, lush, and swinging vocals of Frank Sinatra to conceive the glorious and witty homage to life during the big band era in Come Fly Away. In traditional Twyla Tharp style, nothing is really traditional at all, and that is what makes this theatrical dance piece so intriguing. The juxtaposition of Tharp’s splendid ensemble of meticulously trained dancers cavorting about the stage of the Eisenhower Theater – arms and legs akimbo, swooping into each other’s arms, erotically caressing each other’s limbs and thrashing about on the floor – are the perfect counterpoint to the traditional gold standard singing of ‘Ol’ Blue Eyes.’
Tharp’s signature style is always so bracingly distinctive and you can easily mention her work in the same breath as other innovative dance masters such as Bob Fosse, Martha Graham and Agnes DeMille. This distinctive style was highlighted to very good advantage set against the twenty-seven musical standards that flowed effortlessly and seamlessly from “Stardust” to “That’s Life” to “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” to “New York, New York.” Tharp has done a stellar and imaginative job in conceiving, directing, and choreographing this show – leading a superb ensemble of dancers in a whimsical and provocative take on the very human and fallible interactions of people falling in and out of love in one particularly engaging nightclub.
The decision to make this piece an 80-minute parade of non-stop musical numbers and songs is particularly inspired as the evening feels like a hyper-charged jolt of adrenaline. The whole company never seems to tire from one number to the next–I could really sense no weak spots whatsoever. Tharp’s iconoclastic, slangy and streetwise style is an excellent showcase for dancers who are, first and foremost, quite obviously very formally trained. Often, Tharp’s dancers cavort and move like delirious puppets who are being pulled at the strings.
Highlights of the night were Anthony Burrell and Ashley Blair Fitzgerald in the jolting “That’s Life” and the more languid “One for My Baby.” Also standing out was Ron Todorowski and Amy Ruggiero in the opening number “Stardust” and in the consistently inventive – and my favorite – “Pick Yourself Up.”
Strikingly set against a live fifteen – piece band lead by Conductor and Pianist Rob Cookman, this Come Fly Away has superb music supervision and additional orchestrations and arrangements by Dave Pierce. All techncial aspects are top-notch – in particular, the scenic design by James Youmans and the costume design by Katherine Roth.
If you are looking for an invigorating, witty and innovative take on the standards of Sinatra coupled with the creative dance moves of Twyla Tharp, head on over to Come Fly Away.
Come Fly Away plays through April 29, 2012 at the Eisenhower Theater at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts -2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office (202) 467-4600 or (800) 444-1324, or purchase them online.
Carolyn Kelemen’s interview of Come Fly Away’s Ashley Blair Fitzgerald.
Watch a preview montage video of Come Fly Away.