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 Post subject: Pacific Northwest Ballet: All Tharp (September/October 2008)
PostPosted: Wed Sep 17, 2008 10:11 am 
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Pacific Northwest Ballet's 2008-09 season opens with a program of three works by Twyla Tharp. Two are world premieres: "Op. 111" set to the first, second and fourth movements of Johannes Brahms' String Quintet, Op. 111; and "Afternoon Ball" set to a 1994 score by Vladimir Martynov. The familiar work on the program is "Nine Sinatra Songs," which opened the company's program at the Bumbershoot Festival on Labor Day.

Program details are available on the PNB website:

All Tharp Program

Performances open on Thursday, September 25 and run through Sunday, October 5.

Casting is now available on the PNB site:

Tharp Casting


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 19, 2008 10:12 am 
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In the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, R. M. Campbell interviews Twyla Tharp:

Seattle P-I


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 22, 2008 9:57 am 
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Moira Macdonald previews the All Tharp program in the Seattle Times:

Seattle Times


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 26, 2008 1:45 pm 
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Brendan Kiley interviews Twyla Tharp in The Stranger:

The Stranger


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 29, 2008 1:07 pm 
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Seattle press reviews of the All Tharp Program.

R. M. Campbell in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Seattle P-I

Moira Macdonald in the Seattle Times:

Seattle Times


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 29, 2008 2:32 pm 
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Gia Kourlas reviews the performance in the New York Times:

NY Times


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2008 2:02 pm 
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Sandra Kurtz in the Seattle Weekly:

Seattle Weekly


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 09, 2008 2:15 pm 
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Good, Better, Best
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “All-Tharp” Program
Saturday Evening, 27 September 2008

by Dean Speer

Artists tend to fall into two camps – those that are Apollonian and those that are Dionysian. Thinkers versus Feelers, the Classical versus Romantic. Historically, each struggling for hegemony.

While certainly a mover, Twyla Tharp impresses me as very cerebral dance maker – one very interested in problem solving, how to make and re-make a movement motif, who focuses her attention on details.

Pacific Northwest Ballet has made a very large artistic investment in Tharp, which includes two pieces staged for them previously and, importantly, two new creations made “in-house” by the choreographer herself during a nearly two-month summer residency. PNB has acquired two pieces that are solid Tharp.

Visual and aural “tension” in art is a good thing – this provides textural highs and lows, and a good kind of “conflict.” In dance, we ideally like the music and choreography to play off of each, and to complement, rather than to mimic wholesale. Of course, there are times, such as in programmatic music where narrative should be followed, as in the Prokofiev “Romeo and Juliet.” But even then it doesn’t have to play out exactly, such as a “big” sound expressed by a “big” movement. The music provides the platform and superstructure on which to hang and dress the choreography. I like to think that the two come together to create a third thing: the art. This newborn art is the thing that gets us excited and which, hopefully, moves and elevates us.

I believe Tharp, just by being who she is, has this desired tension built naturally into her works. She is the artisan who wrestles with her movement material, to master and conquer it – to be in control of it. Yet, as controlled as it may be, the overall patina is that of a casual air, which shows itself particularly in “Opus 111" made to the Brahms quintet of the same title.

In response to my query why she chose this music over the originally announced Brahms symphony, she replied that she felt it was a more mature, deeper and better composition. She also offered that she had originally planned to only use three of the four movements, but after staging three, she saw that her work was “unbalanced” and expanded it to include all four sections.

I agree the music is fabulous and I enjoyed how it begins with Carla Körbes and Karel Cruz in a weight-shift pattern that launches them into a walking pattern as they “find” each other. Too soon enters a small group that interrupts our focus on the couple, who go off, presumably still finding each other.

One movement idea that Tharp does not develop or augment in any way is when two dancers sit facing the audience with their feet together, clasping their ankles and rolling – an exercise straight from Pre-Ballet class. Since she only showed it once and didn’t extend it, as she does her other motifs, I think it could be safely discarded and “Opus 111" would not be worse off. Tharp impresses me as being strict and here she wasn’t as strict with herself as she could have been. As much as she does use compositional tools to develop motifs, I might throw caution to the wind and venture that she has given us too many of them; too much material. I’d like to see her pare it down by maybe a third (not shorten overall length of the work) and develop the remaining two-thirds more. The lively, fun, bouncy and buoyant material that does “go” and “move”could then really go further. “Opus 111" is already a popular work with the audience, one in which the dancers have fun, and one that I predict will remain in PNB’s repertory for future audiences to enjoy.

While perhaps a strange and slightly dark work, her second new piece for PNB was I thought in some ways the more successful of the two. “Afternoon Ball” depicts three tortured souls, one of whom is led to a “better place” at the end by an ethereal vision emblazoned in white.

Guest Artist Charlie Neshyba-Hodges was amazing as the central character as were Kaori Nakamura and Olivier Wevers. Ariana Lallone and Stanko Milov appear as a Byronically dressed couple who waltz and sway their way upstage, seemingly oblivious to the chaos in front of them, except Lallone returns as the white goddess who envelops Neshyba-Hodges, accompanying him into light. Neshyba-Hodges has technique to spare, and has made a significant career using and developing a body that’s not typical of ballet work

Her 1982 “Nine Sinatra Songs” is a delightful work which depicts couples who each approach their turns on the dance floor quite differently – from the sultry and soulful, to the blissfully happy, to mismatch and “intentional” mistakes, to the last couple whose tempestuous relationship is played out – all concluding with all the couples coming on stage for one, last dance. Delightfully well cast and matched were Jodie Thomas and Josh Spell as a sprightly nose-rubbing young couple. I tend to think of Louise Nadeau in more ethereal parts, so its fun to enjoy her in something quite different; in this case, as one half of the couple whose dance is more of a contest of wills than a flutey duet.

Having Tharp experience the Northwest [“I saw Mount Rainier once and that body of water...what do you call it? It’s not the ocean...oh, yes, Puget Sound!”] was hopefully good for her, but having her in residence was definitely good for both the company and the audience. Good because she herself reminded the public of the importance of tradition, e.g., a thorough grounding in classical ballet: “How can you be off center, if you don’t know what center is?” [there is a Philistine segment of the vox populi that thinks ballet has had its day and should be shelved] and of how it’s possible to take these traditions, and use them to burst through fetters into artistic unknowns of the present and the future.

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Dean Speer
ballet@u.washington.edu


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 17, 2008 11:41 am 
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Thoroughly Modern Twyla
A Conversation With Twyla Tharp
Twyla Tharp in Residence at Pacific Northwest Ballet

by Dean Speer

Following the Boy Scout Motto, “Be Prepared,” takes a lot of discipline – and thought. It’s a mantra I try to follow, sometimes more successfully than others. Never the less, I knew that my allotted 30 minutes with the contemporary choreographic icon Twyla Tharp needed to be disciplined to achieve maximum benefit for both of us. To make it fun and not an unsufferable torture for its subject, I tried to come up with some topics and questions that would be conversation-starters and get us talking more in-depth.

I arrived early for my scheduled appointment and took the time to acclimate – and to soak up the highly-charged atmosphere at PNB’s rehearsal headquarters. Chatting with one of my favorite dancers who asked why I was there, I reported that I was there to interview ‘she.’ Smiling, this person understood the reference right away and said that I’d be in for an interesting session.

Seeing that my time was near, I took a deep breath and grabbed my packet – notepaper, questions, and tape recorder – and made a beeline to where the Media Relations person was coming out to usher me into PNB’s library, where the interviews [she was giving several in 30 minute blocks] were to be held. A colleague was just coming out – shaking her head and muttering to me how it was going to take hours to transcribe the interview, also on tape. [We all had been alerted that Ms. Tharp speaks quickly.]

Seated erect and alert at one of the reading tables, and dressed in what’s become her trademark work-a-day rehearsal outfit of a white long-sleeved blouse tied in the front above denims and white sneakers, Tharp initially gives the impression of an alert librarian. But make no mistake, this is not your average bibliophile.

By way of introduction, I told her that we nearly met a couple of years ago at the Joffrey Ballet headquarters in Chicago when we sat four chairs away from each other while we both watched their first Company Class of the season. I was there at the invitation of one of the then ballet masters to see the Joffrey’s new digs and she was there to audition and cast “Deuce Coupe” that William Whitener was soon to set. I indicated we almost got to say hello, but I was too excited and just slightly nervous.

Also, had she heard the anecdotal story of how the person to whom Martha Graham tried to leave all of her dances to, but who was not a dancer himself, tried to offer comments about how for the piece being rehearsed right then was “Not what Martha wanted!” and then started waving his arms around, trying to, presumably demonstrate what she did want, only to be told by a member of the rehearsal staff, “Ron, that’s not Martha’s piece, it’s Twyla’s!”? She had heard this, and thought it amusing. Twyla further observed that she wishes that she herself had “written” Martha’s famous “Primitive Mysteries” dance.

Offering congratulations on being celebrated with a Kennedy Center Honor [this turned out to be a conversation non-starter (“Thank you.”)], we launched into the heart of our conversation.

My first substantive question was an attempt to get her to characterize her work, by talking about the “buzz”generated by her residency. A lot of advance publicity had been given to her Seattle residency and to the creation of the new works for PNB. The question was framed: We could anticipate this not only drawing in people to see her work, but also those who might be coming to see the ballet for the first time. What advice might she have for the first-time viewer – to her work and to dance?

Her response was that first-time viewers should be open minded and to allow for some surprises – to enjoy a new experience. When asked to describe her work, instead of summarizing its characteristics, she summarized her choreographic oeuvre in a nutshell, letting them fall into three categories – early works where she just wanted to show pieces and had no expectations of even having an audience; creations for her company; and her work today.

The process of making artistic decisions can be quite interesting and in response to my query about why she chose this music [Brahms’ Opus 111] over the originally announced Brahms symphony, she replied that she felt it was a more mature, deeper and better composition. She also offered that she had originally planned to use only three of the four movements, but after staging three, she saw that her work was “unbalanced” and expanded it to include all four sections.

Knowing she is quite “into” the creative process, we tried to delve into just how she creates her own material – how she comes up with her movement motifs and ideas. Ms. Tharp reported that she has video archives going back to 1968 that have recorded her studio experiments. She culls from these, and in the case of PNB’s two new pieces, worked out the extended “parts” on Charlie Neshyba-Hodges, who helped her teach the parts to the dancers. For the Brahms, she had begun with a certain number of prescribed parts but expanded that number after arriving and working with the PNB dancers, whom she has found very good to work with – disciplined and open to working in fresh ways.

We talked about creativity a little bit more and how she would define it. She likened creativity “to keeping us all sane,” and agreed that even an e-mail about the most routine thing could be lively.

As our all too-short time together drew to a close, I asked her where she thought dance might be going in the future. She quickly replied that it’s “...tied to the AIG!” [American International Group, Inc.; at the time of our interview, the U.S. economy was quickly going downhill and was in crisis.] While dance always continues, it is dependent on funding.

A side observation: While watching Tharp conduct an open rehearsal of “Afternoon Ball,” it was most interesting to me that she sat up ramrod straight on a stool and while note-taking, never took her eyes off of the dancers, but wrote without looking at her pad. Yet when it came time to give the dancers notes, she was clearly able to read and interpret her comments. She had many positive things to relay to the dancers, noting that one section in particular was “quite strong” and successful, also working with them on myriad details, refining these to performance level.

Twyla Tharp has become, perhaps through no fault of her own, an American institution [those who perceive themselves and their work to be at the cutting edge, tend to not want to be associated with such conservative words as “institutions”] and PNB was fortunate to have her zesty and spirited presence as it concluded its Summer rehearsals and kicked off it Fall performance season.

Some questions I did not get to ask Ms. Tharp: What did her siblings end up doing with their lives and careers? Being from San Bernardino, how did that city’s culture effect her work – or did it? [San Bernardino was founded as a Latter-Day Saint enclave.] Does she enjoy watching her own works, or is the creative process just about enough?

_________________
Dean Speer
ballet@u.washington.edu


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