Sharp as a Tharp

16 Nov

I interrupt this program with an unscheduled but entirely expected aside, a review of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s All Tharp program.  I feel the need to treasure these waning moments of sanity, for I am succumbing to the incurable disease of swan-psychosis.  However, far from visions of lakefaring waterfowl, All Tharp presented a trio of mastermind Twyla Tharp’s works: Opus 111, Afternoon Ball and Waterbaby Bagatelles (okay, it’s possible that last one may have had something to do with aquatic creatures, but not necessarily bird imagery).  Obviously the run of shows is already over, but it’s still worth talking about.

I actually had a tough time with yanking this review out of my head though and I’m not entirely sure why.  After the show I felt speechless and not in the life-altering kind of way…just at a loss for words, even though I knew they were there.  This was weird for me, a perpetual chatterbox whose kindergarten teacher (among others) said I talk too much.  Luckily, I took some notes for myself and I’m good but it was a slightly alarming moment.  Like I like to do, I feel it pertinent to give a brief synopsis of my experiences with Twyla Tharp choreography…I did minor in dance after all.  So the breakdown is, I’ve seen Deuce Coupe on film from my first dance history class so I have some fuzzy images but nothing too clear and of course I’ve seen Hair, excerpts of which were also shown in class.  Interestingly, I have seen Sinatra Suite live, as performed by good ole’ BalletMet in Columbus.  Unfortunately, my oddly brilliant photographic memory happens to be very selective and completely unpredictable and I don’t recall Sinatra Suite at all.  It obviously didn’t make a huge impact on me, but to give you an example of my freakish memory (which I find is actually quite ordinary amongst dance patrons) I distinctly remember a piece called Maquillage, which had female dancers in chiffon dresses of sunset hues (orange, pink, lilac, mauve, etc.) dancing to “the diamond commercial song,” which needs to be known as the Allegretto from Karl Jenkins’ Palladio suite.

Where was I…Tharp, right.  Well, there was definite impact this time around (though I can never guarantee for how long that will last) but I really enjoyed the first piece, Opus 111.  My favorite of the night, it was an arcadian display of buoyancy, like a festive summer gathering.  Set to Johannes Brahms’s String Quartet No.2 in G major, Op. 111, it was by far the most musically linked of the three pieces and just a constant barrage of movement.  The style of it was very free—lots of swinging and drifting without a single pause—a visual feast with almost no relief for the senses.  I couldn’t believe how the dance just kept going and going…the pace never let up, a characteristic shared in the other works as well.  I would almost liken Tharp’s choreography to stream of consciousness but not in an improvisational sense.  When it comes to stream of consciousness, although we may not necessarily form coherent paragraphs, we still think in terms of fully formed words and phrases which was the same in Opus 111; codified steps and organized phrases of movement were what materialized on stage.  On Saturday night, the softness of the piece was perfect on the lovely Carla Körbes but the dance also revealed rare moments of contrast, like when Carrie Imler came charging out of the blocks in a series of châinés turns.  I think the word is “attacked,” and it was almost feral in comparison (in the good way).

Meanwhile, Afternoon Ball was a sometimes sad, sometimes awkwardly funny commentary on the plight of the homeless.  There were three main characters: a sassy drunkard, a ferocious prostie (that’s Australian for “prostitute”) and a forlorn junkie.  The dancing was quite aggressive, to this maddening, minimalist violin score that would build ever so slightly and go nowhere.  It’s a somewhat similar concept that is heard in Maurice ravel’s famous Bolero (which I hate, by the way) in that a constant rhythm is the driving force.  There were moments of whimsy between the three hobos, but you have to wonder if chuckling at a homeless drunkard falling over is…appropriate.  However, what was most intriguing in the way they danced with each other is that these were people who were stripped of the choice to form relationships with other people…in many ways, they could only dance with other paupers out of default, because nobody else would give them the time of day.  This was further emphasized by the introduction of an elite couple, dressed in formal clothing and doing a very formal waltzy pas de deux with the lady on pointe.  The rich couple never acknowledged the hobo trio, who sort of danced around them, in particular the junkie, who is later claimed by an angel of death, shivering as the ghostly figure in white embraced him.  Beautifully danced, Afternoon Ball was a delicious helping of food for thought.

Then came Waterbaby Bagatelles.  I was lost in this piece, literally drowning in everything there was to take in.  The stage was starkly lit in blue, and hanging from the ceiling were rows of fluorescent tube lights, much like in an aquarium, except this was a sad aquarium without a hint of environmental enrichment.  In that sense it’s hard to say what the dance was about, other than imagery and feelings invoked by water.  You had some dancers dressed as swimmers (shirtless guys and women in more modest bathing attire with swim caps) but then you also had more animal-like movements, like Carla Körbes and Batkhurel Bold’s eely pas de deux.  There were also bodily illustrations of water itself, with dancers appearing and receding like waves or pirouetting in swirling eddies.  Even more amusing was when they would vibrate their entire bodies, which you might think would seem out of place, but if you think about bubbles rising to the surface, it’s not a smooth trajectory…they sort of flutter as they wiggle their way upward.  I had to let go of trying to decipher excessive meaning in the piece because if I held on, I’m pretty sure my brain would have exploded when the company broke out into a tango.

Overall, quite an interesting evening…and by interesting I mean intense.  I can’t stress enough the seamlessness of Tharp’s choreography, which can actually be quite taxing, but beautiful in its potency.  I leave you with PNB’s video of images and clips from All Tharp in the hopes that my descriptions of her work do the real thing justice.

And now back to the regularly scheduled programming…Swan Lake Month…

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