06 November 2015

Out of Love with Twyla

Victor and I went to see the Twyla Tharp 50th Anniversary Tour performance at the Auditorium Theatre last night and were disappointed.  It wasn’t the first time. We were underwhelmed by Tharp’s Movin’ Out on Broadway (in 2005) and by a subsequent performance in Chicago.

I was introduced to Twyla Tharp by a couple of 1980s movies. I was struck by the choreography in Milos Forman’s Hair, which remains one of my favorite movies of that era, and in White Nights, which I went to see in the theater repeatedly (it remains a guilty pleasure to see again on video).  The idea of ballet had always bored me, but now I felt that there was something to it. I was utterly thrilled by the mix of movement and emotion.  Perhaps it was Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines as much as Twyla Tharp who enraptured me. Regardless, she went to the top of my mental list of who to go see live when I had means and opportunity.

That took more than a decade.  We were living in Columbus, Ohio. The Wexner Center for the Arts brought Twyla Tharp in 2002. She had a long association with the Wexner and appeared in person after the performance to crankily answer the questions of dance students in the audience.  While I don’t remember the performance specifically, I remember feeling much the same thrill—and feeling very fortunate.

I can’t say the same of Movin’ Out, which I’d looked forward to intensely.  After all, I’d grown up adoring Billy Joel’s music. Adding my favorite choreographer to the mix could only be a bonus.

That was a miscalculation. The choreography was so literal and uninspired, I felt embarrassed. I remember saying it was like watching the Solid Gold dancers. Almost every choreographic move was sexualized, as if mimicking sexual intimacy was the only interesting choice. (In fact, when you make that choice every time, it becomes dull.)

While the current performance isn’t all about sex, it is unfortunately much about sameness. After a brief First Fanfare, the new Preludes and Fugues (the music is from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier) contains a number of lovely and surprising moments but they are repeated without development over 45 minutes, which diminishes their impact. The second act starts with a stunning Second Fanfare—brief, like the first. The striking choreography of this piece is enhanced by silhouette effects on and behind the curtain.  The long Yowzie has a vibrant early jazz soundtrack, but in spite of some delightful moments, the repetition without development eliminates any feeling of excitement you might have had at first.

This is a busy time of year for us, and I think our disappointment was sharpened by the feeling that we could have had a night off!  Our powerfully positive early impressions of Twyla Tharp have been pretty definitively wiped out. 

We will no longer be going out of our way to see Twyla.

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