November 12, 2001
Tharp continues to create powerful, invigorating dance
by Deborah Stone
Arts and Entertainment Reviewer
Twyla Tharp Dance made its Seattle debut Nov. 2 at The Paramount Theater, as part of a 25-city national and international tour.
The legendary Tharp has had a profound effect on the world of dance with a career that has spanned over thirty-six years. She is the recipient of numerous awards and honors for her original choreography on stage and for her work in film and television.
In the summer of 2000, she formed a new company with six highly talented dancers and has been touring the country with a repertoire of new pieces, receiving rave reviews from critics at each stop. In the company's first appearance in Seattle, it became clear, early on, that Tharp is back, better than ever, with her characteristically exuberant blend of ballet and modern dance.
Opening night featured two very different pieces, both highly entertaining and exciting for the enthusiastic audience, who responded with thunderous applause. The airy "Mozart Clarinet Quintet K. 581," which is titled after its score, opened the program. This dance exemplified Tharp's lyrical gifts and playful qualities, emphasizing shifting spatial patterns and tricky acrobatic partnering. The piece had a classical bent, borrowing from the minuet.
Dancers performed effortless appearing lifts and drops, wrapping around one another to form interesting shapes. The mood was one of joy and uplifting spirit. By contrast, "Surfer at the River Styx" was dark, intense and harsh. Set to American percussionist-composer Donald Knaack's pulsating, thumping and resonant score (created from percussion sounds on found objects), dancers performed a series of powerhouse movements to tell a story containing elements of brutality, violence, despair and redemption.
Male soloist John Selya, "the surfer" was an imposing figure in a white T-shirt and baggy white pants as he whipped around the stage at breakneck speeds, executing what appeared to be a combination of break-dance, martial arts and kick-boxing maneuvers.
Keith Roberts, another male soloist, provided the contrast with a more balletic style, although also performed at top speeds.
Both men had a dazzling number where they performed dizzying spins, one after another, in some sort of grim competition, which left the audience gasping for air.
Four other dancers, Ashley Tuttle, Elizabeth Parkinson, Alexander Brady and Benjamin Bowman, dressed in black, created a menacing mood as the backdrop to this one up-man-ship drama. The piece ended with an abrupt change of music and mood, as the whole group glided across the stage, holding one of the women (who was in the splits) high in the air above them. It is obvious that Tharp, at age sixty, has not lost her touch for creating powerful dance that continues to invigorate audiences everywhere.