Maia, Seth, and I saw a trio of Twyla Tharp pieces at American Ballet Theater on 6/1/19. The first piece was *Brahms/Haydn Variations* from 2000. It seemed like it was Tharp saying, “See, I can do ballet!” Solo dancers in the front, corps de ballet in the back, always something interesting to look at. My favorite moment had four female dancers in the corps all doing the same thing, then the third dancer from the right stepping back and doing something else while the others continued dancing the same thing. Surprising.
Misty Copeland, one of ABT’s stars, was in this piece and it was nice to see her as one of many solo dancers, instead of being The Star. Maybe it’s because I watched her in a different way, because she’s the only dancer I know, but it seemed like she was dancing with more wit than the others.
The second piece was *Deuce Coupe* from 1973, set to canned music by The Beach Boys. The women were in bright orange dresses with matching shoes, the men in raspberry satin pants and short sleeved print tops in white, turquoise, and raspberry. And one female dancer in a white dress in a specific Ballet Dancer style. Her dancing was pure, classical. I read in the program notes that she was demonstrating steps from an 18th century collection of ballet steps, and she was doing them in alphabetical order. Her dancing was rather severe in comparison to the other dancers, who were often doing a disciplined version of pop dancing of the 60s. The dancer in white never (and I mean never) interacted with the other dancers, she seemed to be invisible to them. This was confounding and rather disturbing. There was a moment about 2/3 of the way through the piece when she left the stage, and I was so happy and relieved. This is not a good feeling to have as an audience member.
Seth made the point that the ballet dancers weren’t really able to shimmy or move their hips the way a Broadway or music video dancer would, so why would Tharp do this piece for a ballet company, who wouldn’t be able to effectively dance in this style? They could indicate the style, but not really embody it. One of the joys of this piece was hearing many Beach Boys songs for the first time. Clearly I haven’t been spending enough time listening to The Beach Boys.
The third and final piece was *In the Upper Room,* done to Philip Glass - - canned music again, which was a disappointment, since they had an actual orchestra for the first piece. Why not use them? Unfortunately I slept through much of this piece, and Maia and Seth said it was the highlight of the evening, the dancing made the most sense with the music and the dancing itself seemed most distinctive of Tharp and her style. I was bothered by the intense fog onstage, which of course found its way into the audience. It burned my eyes and put a bad taste in my mouth, so I think my napping was partially in reaction to the fog. But I do wish I had stayed awake.