Twyla Tharp is no ordinary person. One look at her bio and you get that. It’s not just the mountains of awards, medals, prizes, fellowships, and honorary degrees, or the three books, six films, twelve television specials, four Broadway shows, two figure skating routines, dozens of A-list collaborators, or the 129 dances she’s created over the past forty-eight and a half years. This is an artist who gives you the impression that she’s just getting started. On her comprehensive website (twylatharp.org), you can take in the extraordinary breadth of this icon’s life and work. “The Works” are divided into five-year brackets, and one already exists for the years 2015-2020. The last line of her bio reads, “Twyla continues to create.” I’ll say!
It all began with Tank Dive, a four-minute work for four, choreographed in 1965 to the music of Petula Clark. There’s even a video clip of Twyla making focused and sculptural strides into a small, stage-like space. A calculated pause suggests a move of tremendous skill is imminent. With a sudden sweeping arc of the arm, a yoyo drops to the floor, offering the arresting, the common, and a dash of the comedic, all rolled into one. Next comes Stage Show, performed by Tharp and another dancer outside the entrance of the Alaska Exhibition during the 1965 New York World’s Fair. The description on the Tharp website reads, “Designed to lure passersby into the Alaska Pavilion, the dancers used the cut-off paws from a bearskin rug to perform a sort of furry hootchie-kootchie.” Yes, the creative force that is Twyla Tharp was just getting started.
Well, 135 works later, we proudly unveil Waiting at the Station. This is the eighth work for PNB, including the uplifting Sweet Fields performed by our students last June. This is also the third work that Twyla has choreographed on our Company, and it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen from her, or anyone else, for that matter. No bear paws here, but it’s got some serious moves and some crazy hats. To the infectious rhythms of jazz legend Allen Toussaint, with Santo Loquasto’s winning vintage sets and costumes enveloped in Jim Ingalls’ atmospheric lighting, we are transported to another time and place. On this textured canvas, Twyla makes her mark, letting singular movement reveal story and spirit. That other place becomes another world.
Opening AIR TWYLA is Brief Fling, Twyla’s 1990 creation for American Ballet Theatre. Brief Fling takes classical structure and technique as a jumping-off point and launches into the realm of the asymmetrical and the unexpected. The dancers are clad in Isaac Mizrahi’s sexy plaids, which still show plenty of muscle. A word of appreciation goes to Matthew Dibble, who staged this work with true clarity. Completing the triple bill is an audience favorite here in Seattle and around the world—Twyla’s 1982 classic, Nine Sinatra Songs. Paul Gibson set the work this time around, with help from Matt, after Shelley Washington’s original staging.
AIR TWYLA is an appropriate finale for a year of work and collaboration with PNB’s first A-I-R (Artist-in-Residence), which began half a world away in Spoleto, Italy, with an all-Tharp program. In the Upper Room made a welcome return last March, while Twyla developed material for Waiting at the Station and cast Sweet Fields. Press interviews, meetings with the staff and patrons, work with the costume and scenic shops, a choreographer’s reception, a brilliant lecture-demonstration, a few hundred emails and phone calls with me, plus three weeks of Tree Frog classes (that’s Tharp Technique to you), and it was quite a year. My sincere appreciation to Peggy and Peter Horvitz for recognizing the importance of bringing Twyla to PNB and making this residency possible. Patrice and Kevin Auld also deserve thanks for their generosity and hospitality.
I know we’ll see Twyla in Seattle again, because not only does Seattle love Twyla, but she seems to like us, too. Thank you, Twyla, for bringing your energy, wit, wisdom, and quotable quotes, and above all, thank you for continuing to create.
– Peter Boal, Artistic Director
Featured photo: Principal dancer James Moore rehearses Waiting at the Station in PNB’s Studio C. Photo: Lindsay Thomas.