Barry's Dance Review

The Top Ten Reasons I Qualify as a Dance Reviewer


Presented by the UCLA Center for the Performing Arts,
Wiltern Theatre, Los Angeles, 9/27/96
$13 - $40



Sweet Fields - 66 - Heroes

Choreography by Twyla Tharp
"Heroes" Music by Philip Glass


Round Purple Button Twyla is back, which is great news for her fans and for the dance world. The Quirky Flexed-Foot Queen has arrived with three new imaginatively distinct pieces. Successful artists are always in competition with their previous work. On that basis, this program won't be considered the pinnacle of Tharp's career; but for dance enthusiasts it's a must-see evening that provides many memorable moments.

What is immediately striking is the appearance of the company. Tharp has meticulously selected her charges with the same precision she brings to every element of her work. The uniformly attractive, seven man, six woman group are two matched sets of Pilates-perfect bodies. All the women are the same height, compact, lean & lithe, strong & bursting with energy; likewise the men, except for four more inches of height.

The young Twylamorphs & Mapplemorphs must call on every bit of their dance training to realize the demands of their notorious taskmaster. At times, their execution fell short: Lifts that appeared far from effortless, slightly late arrivals, failure to completely finish extensions...Blame it on their youth. These are picky little elements that purists can kvetch about; but I sense that the vast majority of the audience, myself included, doesn't give a hoot about such technicalities and were thrilled by the dancers' speed, strength, exuberance, range of emotions, and sheer joy they brought to their performance.

The lighting, and costumes were beautiful examples of stunning simplicity. Award-winning, Jennifer Tipton is the Lighting Designer and legendary Norma Kamali did the costumes. (See her 1996 Collection on the OMO Web Page) The three radically disparate pieces of this tour plumb realms spiritual, mundane, & mythic. These are Twyla's dreams, so to speak, and she has brought them forth for us to view. Emotional responses to each piece are certainly in the eyes, hearts & minds of the beholders. I found no consensus at all, as to a favorite among the audience. There is always a degree of puzzlement, a contingent of dance watchers who want explanations of what they've just seen. Forget t-shirts, for brisk post-concert concession sales Twyla could offer Cliff Notes, detailing the genesis, three-act storyline of each piece and the meaning of selected gestures. As if...!!!

Round Purple Button "Sweet Fields" uses the music and faith of the Shakers to celebrate their spare, yet joyous world, spiritual purity, and the inevitability of the cycle of life. The ten different hymns provide the uplifting, transporting sounds reminsiscent of Gregorian chants, sans Latin. The bare stage, flowing white pants and shirts, and ethereal lighting combine to create a calm, well-ordered realm. This is a smoothly flowing piece, no quirky moves here; each vignette blends into the next. There were gestures of supplication, of actual "shaking" religious ecstasy, skipping, as well as disciplined serpentine lines of dancers, and bodies carried aloft in funeral processions. I found myself in a mild, meditative state, greatly enjoying the combination of beautiful sounds & the floating interaction of graceful bodies.

Round Purple Button "66" gives the Mistress of Organized Chaos endless stretches of empty highway to indulge her whimsical exorcism of familial demons and beat the road metaphor with a tire iron using driving & hitching gestures and two huge roly-poly, bouncy, at times flat, Pirelli-on-pointe (The concert's Corporate sponsor!) characters for comedy relief. Santo Loquasto did the evening's only set design; an enormous backdrop triangle, high-angle perspective of a two-lane blacktop; cool effect.

Set to over a dozen selections of what's called Bachelor Pad Lounge Music, by Esquivel, Dean Martin, Cole Porter, several big bands, and others; the general mood is smooth schmaltz, but it works in the context of on the road possibilities and combative lovers. Julie Stahl & Andrew Robinson are the Couple in the extended sexy/violent Apache that winds through the piece. He's macho to a fault, a clueless clod who can still evoke sympathy; she exhibits both saucy sensuality and understandable anger towards her damned if I do, or don't, long-term beau. Wielding the flexed-foot trademark with power & accuracy it becomes a formidable weapon that would make Thelma & Louise proud. Together, they are one of the highlights of the evening.

There is lots going on here: An old man, Shawn Mahoney, who hobbles around on a cane, until throwing it offstage, and performs a showy, spinning, cutesy, tour de force. In the background are dance genres galore being essayed to entertaning effect. Fun, fun, fun, now that Daddy, took her T-Bird, away!

Round Purple Button "Heroes" features music composed by Philip Glass "from the music of David Bowie & Brian Eno." Not being familiar with the original Bowie album, I can't judge their contribution, but this is vintage Philip Glass. Driving, powerful, and epic, it provides Tharp with all the setting necessary in which to tell her tale.

It begins with three aloof pillars of strength, hands on hips, who bend but not break as a running dancer (Toshiko Oiwa) flings herself at their puffed-out chests, then slowly sink to the ground. Bright wing-lights turn the empty stage into a stark, barren landscape, filled with paranoia, fear and loathing. Women entice the males and are thrown around like rag dolls. There are bickering arguments, chases, hand-to-hand combat, hate-filled battles. In the process, there's outstanding group choreography and daringly executed movements, it's exhausting both physically & emotionally.

Finally, there is redemption; a sense that heroes can choose not to be isolated from mere mortals and that the oppressed can themselves become heroes.

Round Purple ButtonThe de rigeur standing ovation was genuinely enthusiastic. After several curtain calls, Twyla joined her sweat-drenched brood in an exchange of applause and a final bow.

For more Tharp!

L.A. Times Review by Lewis Segal

L.A. Times Interview with Twyla Tharp

© 1996 by B. L. Weiss


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