Spine: JOY and Twyla Tharp’s 50th Anniversary Tour

Twyla Tharp’s 50th Anniversary Tour came to the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theatre last night. Four pieces: two short “Fanfares,” a Preludes and Fugues, and a Yowzie.

And the stage was aflutter with bodies in a state of grace.

Twyla Tharp's Yowzie. Photo by Sharen Bradford.
Twyla Tharp’s ‘Yowzie’. Photo by Sharen Bradford.

Twyla Tharp is, of course, a legend. She has won too many awards to mention, including a MacArthur Fellowship in 1993.

Her choreography swirls with distinction, zooming back and forth between esoteric brilliance and the downright quirky. A truly unique blend of classical, modern, jazz, clowning, and vaudeville.

As you watch, eyes ablaze in a haze of motion, body parts twitching this way and that, the occasional facial expression or hand gesture giving real world context to an otherwise sublime earthiness, a joy emerges.

You’ll know it, afterwards, when in reflection. It is the joy of witnessing creativity as it creates itself.

I felt it first in the First Fanfare, and I felt it again and again throughout the evening.

With music by John Zorn and performed by The Practical Trumpet Society, the company (John Selya, Rika Okamoto, Matthew Dibble, Ron Todorowski, Daniel Baker, Amy Ruggiero, Ramona Kelley, Nicholas Coppula, Eva Trapp, Savannah Lowery, Reed Tankersley, Kaitlyn Gilliland, and Eric Otto) turned the Eisenhower stage into a pandemonium of arms, legs, torsos, faces, hands, chests, butts, feet, noses, ears.

My eyes were a cluster.

When chaos turns beautiful, when the random becomes, not predictable, but hopeful, then delight rises.

You will not focus your attention on a single dancer, nor on a single relationship between this him and that her, though at times you might.

The whole stage will offer itself to your wonderment.

Sometimes you will chose to gaze at the dancer in pirouette. You will say to yourself, “I might have watched that lift taking place in the background,” but it will be too late. For the choreography, like life, moves on. “Next time,” you’ll say, “I’ll watch the lift.”

Twyla Tharp's 'Prelude and Fugues'. Photo by Sharen Bradford.
Twyla Tharp’s ‘Prelude and Fugues’. Photo by Sharen Bradford.

Such was the internal discourse during Preludes and Fugues, “the world as it ought to be,” according to program notes.

Dedicated to composer Richard Burke, “aesthetically gorgeous” must be the “ought” that the world has yet to embrace in its totality.

More importantly, as the title of the piece indicates, what “ought to be” comprises of an infinite series of introductions, with each prelude leading into the next prelude and forming a fugue, i.e., a woven pattern of interrelated elements. A fugue state is a wholly different thing, but it might very well result from such a postmodern discourse on the nature of existence, an existence filled with infinite beginnings.

With music by Johann Sebastian Bach and performed by David Korevaar and Angela Hewitt, the company floods the stage with duos and trios, with the next movement beginning sometimes before the previous has ended.

Santo Loquasto’s earthy, somewhat military-looking costumes add to the piece’s classical unity, even as bursts of individuality dapple its surface.

The second half of the evening was dominated by Yowzie, and believe me the title tells you everything you need to know about the piece’s style.

Before Yowzie began, however, a Second Fanfare introduced its zaniness. Not shadow puppets, but shadow dancers crossed the stage on the surface of front curtain, now backlit crimson by designer James F. Ingalls. With costumes again by Santo Loquasto, the effect was magnificent. Like a medieval parade of Commedia del’Arte characters traipsing down a deserted Roman road, the company proceeded. Even their moving silhouettes spoke volumes about the carnival we were about to witness.

Yowzie is all dance theatre.

With music by American Jazz and performed by Henry Butler/Steven Bernstein and The Hot 9, the Eisenhower filled with syncopation and the presence of vaudeville.

Rika Okamoto and Matthew Dibble in 'Yowzie'. Photo by Ruven Afanador.
Rika Okamoto and Matthew Dibble in ‘Yowzie’. Photo by Ruven Afanador.

Rika Okamoto and Matthew Dibble are two hobos in the tradition of Charlie Chaplin. We meet them in somewhere America to the tune of “Buddy Bolden’s Blues” by Jelly Roll Morton with its hilarious refrain of “Funky butt, stinky butt take it away.”

If Yowzie is, as the program contends, about the world “as it is,” then down and out, and drunk on our feet, defines us.

The piece’s narrative is simple. Our two “stinky butts” do their best to make do with life’s left hooks. When Dibble’s character meets a handsome young man, however, he sees a chance at happiness. He leaves, and Okamoto’s woozy drunk goes wild.

Loquasto costumes are truly a delight and they work with Ingalls’ lights and the dancers’ bodies to create a kaleidoscope of shapes and personalities.

By the end your cheer will not dissipate until way past bedtime.

And that is Twyla Tharp’s 50th Anniversary Tour. If you know and love dance, it is an absolute must. If you don’t know dance, then there is no better way to get acquainted.

Running Time: Two hours, with an intermission.

Twyla Tharp’s 50th Anniversary Tour plays through November 14, 2015, at the Eisenhower Theatre, at the Kennedy Center – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets and information, call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or go to their calendar.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif


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