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Twyla Tharp Dance Company, City Center, New York, New York, September 30-October 12, 1997.

Twyla Tharp came to City Center with a superb new company and two beautifully crafted programs offering three New York premieres (Heroes, Sweet Fields, 66), one brand-new work (Roy's Joys), and a revival (The Fugue). The season marked a genuine divide: for the first time in many years, I could remember Tharp's grand old company, which in a sense I had grown up on, without nostalgia. The twelve young dancers of Tharp!, as she has baptized her new ensemble, are just as contemporary and stylish as their predecessors of the 1970s, only they belong to the here and now, not to one's trunkful of memories of yesteryear.

Like Tharp's choreography, her new group is technically hybrid, with the legs and line of ballet dancers, the rhythmic subtlety of jazz artists, and the high-octane energy of fitness freaks. After years of experiment, she has finally discarded the pointe shoe. Although her women still toss off fouette turns (albeit oddly shaped ones), they also spin like hoofers. Their leaps have weight, and in six o'clock arabesques they sometimes clown. Instead of ballerinas, they are interesting and alluring women. And, like her original corps of dancers, they are all individuals.

Modern dance, John Martin once famously said, is a point of view. This season Tharp came home to the modern dance tradition that nurtured her as an artist. The spiritual elation, simple yet expansive spatial patterns, use of dramatic gesture, and Shaker theme of Sweet Fields all invoke Doris Humphrey's Shakers, although Tharp's dancing celebrants wear white organza shirts (by Norma Kamali) that sometimes seem to float like angel wings rather than the nineteenth-century costumes of Humphrey's classic work.

In 66, a fifties teen piece with a comic-strip blow-up (by Santo Loquasto) of the famous highway, an old-timer hobbles among the kids; then, in a comic vignette Charles Weidman would have liked, tosses away his cane and becomes a soft-shoe dancing youth. But the virtuosity of Tharp's coursing lifts and leaps, her speedy, intricate phrases, marvelously liquid backs, and sensuousness are miles from the astringency of her modern dance ancestors.

Heroes is in Tharp's darker vein. Set to music by Philip Glass, it is a hard-edged work, with a theme that's never quite spelled out but seems to be a comment on aggression. Whatever she meant to say, Tharp's choreography is intensely physical, full of risk-taking leaps, great slides and falls that recall Paul Taylor's Esplanade, and triumphant overhead lifts that are thrilling in their muscularity. A figure with the innocent eroticism of a faun wanders among the apaches, only to disappear into the surrounding blackness, made possible by Jennifer Tipton's brilliant lighting.

Roy's Joys is the latest addition to Tharp's "retro" repertory. This time, however, she revisits the fifties through the sophisticated music and vocals of jazz trumpeter Roy Eldridge. The result is a gem of a work, elegant, classy, full of play, wit, and dancing that is pure pleasure. Leon Wieseltier, the company's musical adviser, is to be commended for cobbling together a score so congenial to Tharp's imagination.

With this season Tharp has reestablished her place at the forefront of American dancemakers. She has come back with a new sense of purpose, a renewed belief in her identity as a modern dancer, and dancers -- Jay Franke, Jennifer Howard, Roger C. Jeffrey, Tara Keating, Jessica Lang, Shawn Mahoney, Gabrielle Malone, Victor Quijada, Matt Rivera, Andrew Robinson, Julie Stahl, and Sandra Stanton -- whom time, faith, and hard work have welded into a superb artistic instrument.
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Author:Garafola, Lynn
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jan 1, 1998
Previous Article:Merce Cunningham: Fifty Years.
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