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1-23: Tharp Does it Again!
Tharp Gives NYCB a Full to Bursting Premiere
By Wendy Perron
Copyright 2000 Wendy Perron
Twyla Tharp's premiere, "The Beethoven Seventh," Saturday, the same
kind of elation I felt the first time I saw "Deuce Coupe" (1973)
and "In the Upper Room" (1986) overtook me. The pleasure at seeing
wave upon wave of inventive movement, and of realizing the vast
imagination of one mind brought to life by fabulous dancers, is
worth a trip to the New York State Theater from any distance.
At times the
New York City Ballet dancers ride the crest of the waves of Beethoven's
Symphony No.7 and at other times they sneak around in between the
notes. Tharp knows exactly when to surrender to the music, when
to extend it, when to cut into it with stillness, when to give it
some humor, when to glory in its sudden lightness. She never does
what you'd expect, and the different thought can take your breath
away. The chances she takes with the music, as though she knows
Beethoven personally, are exciting.
There are many
kinetic surprises, starting with Peter Boal's entrance, in which
he strides forward, and breaks the expansive full body striding
with a short jazzy mock truckin' and immediately goes into something
else. If you blink, you miss it. With Wendy Whelan, I see her torso
melt in directions I haven't seen before. Damian Woetzel springs
up to do fantastic turns and jumps and then is suddenly spinning
on his belly. These are ways that Tharp interrupts the dancers'
customary sense of flow, but the best dancers know how to create
a new sense of continuity. In some cases, for example those of Boal,
Whelan and Woetzel, this challenge heightens the vividness of their
personalities on stage. Boal, always elegant, has a new pliancy
and rhythmic playfulness here. (Confession: I've worked with him
so I feel I can read him easily.) Whelan's crystal clarity and sense
of adventure is put to more complex use. And Woetzel sinks his teeth
into this role like he's been waiting for something harder to do.
He throws himself into the quicksilver choreography with energized
abandon and a roguish touch that brings to mind the comedian Gene
decision Tharp makes, though hard to absorb on a first viewing,
is noteworthy. The dance opens in darkness, with lights (designed
by Jennifer Tipton) slowly illuminating the space as the symphony
starts with intermittent crashing sounds. But we also hear a sustained
sound, and that is what cues the gradual illumination. Soft groupings,
reminiscent of "As Time Goes By" (1973), with partners and groups
dispersing and coming together, can obscure the occasional pirouette
and other displays of virtuosity. The dancers wear partly sheer
layered costumes by Isaac Mizrahi, revealing flesh in some midriffs
and most ankles. The costumes situate the piece as contemporary,
and they take some getting used to. But they also help make the
dancing look gorgeous and frankly sexual. The dancers seem to adore
partnering each other. It's fun, but not as slick or troubled as
"Nine Sinatra Songs" (1982), and not as flippant and don't-care-who-I-dance-with
as "Baker's Dozen" (1979). The fact that the three lead sets of
partners (Boal with Jennifer Ringer, Whelan with Nikolai H€bbe,
and Woetzel with Miranda Weese ) stay together, and the Beethoven,
seem to be just the right stabilizing elements for Tharp.
sounds, so resolutely ignored in the beginning, are reflected in
the last movement, when the good stuff just keeps coming and coming.
When the whole cast dances together, you might see Whelan do an
incredible turn but the boys from the back surge forward before
you see how the turn ends. You have to be fully alert to catch what
is thrown at you. This is the kind of audience participation I like.
The Beethoven's Seventh gives a full to bursting dance experience,
and I can't wait to see it again.
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