Jahna Frantziskonis strutted casually across the studio floor on pointe while tapping her left palm with her right index finger.
“Twyla, is she texting?” I asked “…on pointe?” Twyla nodded. “I think you’re the first person to choreograph someone texting on pointe!”
With a sly smile she replied, “Someone always has to do it first. It’s usually me.”
Groundbreaker, innovator, fearless creator–I’m never sure which superlatives to use when describing Twyla. Perhaps the best way to understand her is to see her work. Welcome to PNB’s ALL THARP program.
First up is Brief Fling, created in 1990 not long after Twyla merged her company with American Ballet Theater (ABT). Six dancers from Twyla Tharp Dance joined ABT as soloists. One was Shelley Washington, who originated the lead role in the Green Section and helped us with all three works on this program. The merger invited an interesting fusion of modern, contemporary, and classical styles. You’ll see these woven together throughout Brief Fling in winning ways. In this ode to the Scottish fling, dancers don Isaac Mizrahi designed plaids, tam o’shanters, and tutus. You might expect pirouettes, but the cast also plays bagpipes. It all adds up to pure dance and pure fun.
What a treat to welcome Charlie Neshyba-Hodges back to our studios as principal stager. Some of you will remember Charlie as the original protagonist in Twyla’s Afternoon Ball (2008). Also, note that PNB is the first and only company to perform Brief Fling with an orchestra. Someday ask Emil de Cou about his efforts to obtain the score, which led him to the parking lot behind Denny’s.
Next up is Sweet Fields. Stager Mark Rivera was a member of the original cast when the work debuted in 1996. To the backdrop of Shaker hymns performed for us by The Tudor Choir, Sweet Fields is about community, reflection, and celebration. Norma Kamali’s ethereal white costumes fill the space with heavenly overtones.
The closer is Waiting at the Station. Not long after opening this monumental work, a presenter from New York flew to Seattle to see it. Her first comment was, “Congratulations, you’ve just produced your first Broadway show!” Watching Twyla’s concept come to life over eighteen months, culminating in six weeks in the studio, was fascinating. She played two music options for me and, I confess, I’ve forgotten the second one because I fell in love with the music of Allen Toussaint. I could already see Twyla dancing around the studio to the beats and syncopations. To have Allen Toussaint play our first performances is a memory our orchestra will never forget. Scenic and costume designer Santo Loquasto cleverly created a thundering train, smoky station, back alley, dance hall, and Bourbon Street, transporting us to raucous celebrations of Mardi Gras in old New Orleans. Lighting designer Jim Ingalls adds immeasurably to this brilliant work. And who did Twyla choose as her choreographic assistant when she made this work for PNB almost a decade ago, even though he was also performing a principal part in the original cast? That’s right, Kiyon Ross. He’s back in the studio restaging this work for us and helping to infuse the stage with his signature energy.
After the last train rolls downstage at McCaw Hall, we’re taking this Broadway show to Broadway. Broadway and 64th street to be exact–also known as Lincoln Center. Twyla will be there! After a run in New York, we head for Los Angeles. It’s exciting to share our company, orchestra, and repertoire with new audiences, but our first love is to perform for you. I know you’ll enjoy this one. Thanks for joining us for ALL THARP.
Featured photo: Twyla Tharp and Peter Boal in rehearsal in 2013, photo © Lindsay Thomas.
Photo: Allen Toussaint performing at the premiere of Waiting at the Station, photo © Angela Sterling.