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Flash Review, 1-23: Tharp Does it Again!
Tharp Gives NYCB a Full to Bursting Premiere

By Wendy Perron
Copyright 2000 Wendy Perron

While watching 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 Wilder.

Almost every 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.

Those crashing 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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