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Dance Tue Nov 03 2015

Twyla Tharp's 50th Anniversary Tour Premieres 2 New Works in Chicago

Photo by Ruven Afanador
Dancers Matthew Dibble and Rika Okamoto perform a dance by Twyla Tharp. Photo by Ruven Afanador.

Volumes have been written about Twyla Tharp. As an arts writer and reviewer, it's difficult to narrow down what one should say about this prolific dancer and choreographer. It is not easy to capture the concept of movement in prose, much less to winnow down 50 years of a prolific legend such as Tharp. Let's begin with my personal experience with her work.

I first encountered Twyla Tharp's choreography unknowingly, as a teen, in the dance film White Nights (with its spirited and innovative dance scenes with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines) and in the film version of the musical Hair. As one of the "crossover successes" of contemporary dance, Tharp's role in each of these films brought dance credibility to popular culture and fired up my imagination and my love for the form, even before I knew that's what her choreography was doing.

Later, as a part of my interdisciplinary graduate program, I took a class in movement and part of the class was learning dance history. In that class, we studied all of the major modern and contemporary dance artists, including Ms. Tharp. I learned that she was one of the more important choreographers that was working today, that she often worked with popular music and that she had enjoyed great popular and critical success. I watched a few videos, memorized that she was collaborating with Billy Joel on a Broadway show slash "rock ballet" based on the characters in his work (called Movin' Out, a perennial favorite song in the '70s album rotation on my parents' record player).

My third and most recent encounter with Ms. Tharp was directly with her work, in person, as a staff member for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, where I saw her more recent work, "Scarlatti," as a part of a performance at the Harris Theater, and saw many archival photos of the HSDC performing her choreography in the very beginning of their existence as a company. It was in "Scarlatti" that the power of Tharp's work came into sharp focus for me.

What is clear is that Twyla Tharp loves making and thinking about dance. Unlike some of her more obtuse or difficult contemporaries, her work embodies the pure joy and beauty of movement while not dumbing down the formula for audiences. Her recent work, presented as part of her 50th Anniversary Tour, will play at the Auditorium Theater this Thursday through Saturday. The program is neither an expected nor canned retrospective of her 50 years of work.

Her continual invention, creation of new work and constant touring with her company keeps her choreography and her body of work relevant. Indeed, Tharp embraces the current dance paradigm, as both a prodigious documentarian of her work -- her website contains archival footage going back the 1960s -- and as a current blogger for The New York Times, where she writes about and gives a more immediate impression about her process. Tharp has also written several books about dance and the creative process and has choreographed more than 160 works and has won awards ranging from Tonys to Emmys to a National Medal of the Arts.

In her 50th Anniversary program, she will present two Chicago premieres, "Preludes and Fugues" and "Yowzie" in a co-commission with Ravinia Festival and four other presenters in other cities (including the Joyce Theater in New York; the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC; the TITAS/AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas; and the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills). "Preludes and Fugues" is set to J.S. Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier Volumes 1 & 2, and "Yowzie" was created to a selection of music from Viper's Drag, a compilation of jazz arranged by Henry Butler and Steven Bernstein. Each dance will be introduced by a fanfare of horns composed by John Zorn.

Tharp described the work concisely. "Simply put, 'Preludes and Fugues' is the world as it ought to be, 'Yowzie' as it is. The 'Fanfares' celebrate both."

Twyla Tharp - 50th Anniversary Tour plays Thursday, Nov. 5 through Saturday, Nov. 7 at 7:30pm and Sunday, Nov. 8 at 2pm. Tharp will participate in a Q&A with the audience after the Sunday performance. Tickets are $33-$103 and are available online, by calling (312) 341-2300 or in-person at the Auditorium Theatre's box office, 50 E. Congress Pkwy.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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