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Bending the Rules of Dance: Twyla Tharp Vs. Eiko & Koma

Coming out of studies with Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham as well as work with Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp made her reputation in modern classical dance by combining elements of classical ballet with modern dance, off-the-wall experiment with Broadway jazz, and uptown shiny with downtown dirty. Her dance style is known for its quirky and often comic movements: squiggles, shoulder shrugs, and little hops. She was the dance artistic director who put older and younger dancers on stage together as well as dancers of all different heights.

Tamas Krizsa, Nayon Iovino, Corey Landolt- CL and NI Small.jpgOver the years, the Dresser has followed Tharp seeing her choreography done by American and International companies--New York Cit Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, and Hubbard Street Ballet as well as The Royal Ballet and Paris Opera Ballet--and superstar dancers, like Mikhail Baryshnikov. On February 23, 2012, she saw "Twyla Tharp: All American," a retrospective done without sets and presented by the Washington Ballet. This included Tharp's seminal crossover work Push Comes to Shove (world premiere American Ballet Theatre, 1976), Surfer at the River Styx (world premiere, American Dance Festival, North Carolina, 2000), and Nine Sinatra Songs (world premiere Twyla Tharp Dance, 1982). Tharp in her customary workout clothes and high top sneaks was among the well-dressed Washington, DC, Kennedy Center audience and took a bow with the company in apparent appreciation for the good show.

The performances by these young dancers were uplifting and energizing. Jared Nelson in Push Comes to Shove gave a standout performance. He has the strength and grace to make his leaps effortless. Surfer at the River Styx is a barefoot piece that includes moves that look like football tactics and kickboxing, but what made this composition exceptional was the live percussion by provided by Donald Knaak, a. k. a., the Junkman. The Dresser's favorite piece of the Sinatra Songs was "That's Life" with strong performances by Audra Johnson and Jared Nelson.Emily Ellis and Corey Landolt in Sinatra by Brianne Bland_2sm.jpg

The February 22 viewing of the installation piece "Fragile" by Eiko and Koma in concert with the Kronos Quartet at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center etched stark contrast into the Dresser's mind versus the joyful and exuberant "Twyla Tharp: All American" by the Washington Ballet. Eiko and Koma studied with Japanese dance legend Kazuo Ohno, one of the originators of butoh, also known as the dance of darkness. Butoh often involves extreme or absurd environments, dancers in white body makeup who move with hyper-control and at an extremely slow pace. While it can be playful, it is usually grotesque and shocking.

The stage setting for "Fragile" was a plot of fragrant mulch augmented with a shroud-like cloth, black feathers, reeds, and dried leaves. Eiko and Koma in white body makeup but no clothing or shoes lay in the dirt and debris and made minimal movements as the music and text recordings played. The text clued the audience into the meaning of this installation as voices talked about the recent nuclear disaster in Japan at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant but there were also other texts listed in the program that spoke to other assaults on our planet and natural environments such as sounds of Weddlell seals, (the Dresser guesses the sound of these seals speaks to the issues of global warming) 1967 riots by Japanese students at Haneda Airport, reports of the 2011 Tohoku tsunami, a recurring playing of the recording of the Peace Bell from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

The Kronos Quartet sat on chairs on the perimeter facing across this plot of ground toward the audience who were free to find seats on boxes positioned around the black box theater, sit on pillows tossed on the floor near the performers, stand, and to come and go at will. The performance with one twenty-minute break ran from 5 pm to 9 pm.

TeahousePond.jpgAs an installation, the performers also built special rice paper walls with embedded feathers that led into the darkened black box theater. Ghostly images hung on the entry wall of the Kogod Theatre. In the lobby of the Clarice Smith Arts Center, Eiko and Koma built a teahouse with a pond. Then they projected an image of themselves into the water. The Dresser found the pond spooky because the water moved occasionally as if the dancers were actually under the water creating the sudden ripples.Painting2.jpg

The Dresser showed up for this performance around 7:30 pm. While she got a program listing the pieces Kronos would play, she was unsure where they were in the list. Because of the non-restrictive environment, the Dresser was able to peer over the shoulder of the cellist Jeffrey Zeigler and of course what came up next was "Flow," a composition by Laurie Anderson that the Dresser knows for its characteristic and pleasing musical stutter. What was essential and engaging to the Dresser in her experience of "Fragile" was the close up performance of the Kronos Quartet, who have been in residence this semester at the University of Maryland. The Dresser also heard "Takeda Lullaby," a traditional piece arranged by Kronos; some lieder by Gustav Mahler; Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll"; "Boyiwa," a song of mourning over a corpse, songs from Henryk M. Gorecki; Morton Feldman's "Structures"; Osvaldo Golijov & Gustavo Santaolalla's "Darkness 911" and "Quartet No. 5: III" by Philip Glass.

If, Dear Reader, you want to know if the Dresser liked "Fragile," she would have to say it made a lasting impression, much like seeing The Garden of Early Delights by Hieronymus Bosch or the grotesque surreal landscapes of Salvador Dali or René Magritte. In "Considering Magritte," Marilyn McCabe's five-part poem (three sections are shown here), the dual problems of appearance and how things fit with the norm speak to the world of movement crafted by the choreography of Twyla Tharp and the performance art of Eiko and Koma.


3. Le mouvement perpétuel

My head's a ball.
I dress myself in multi-
syllables. High brow? Yes,
all that's left of the old hare-
brained circus act, back and forth
on my trapeze. I repeat myself.
Have I told you this?
Have I told you this before?

4. Problems and Affinities

A door is a hole: leaf
a tree: boulder mountain: man
his own death.
Q. How is the rain
like a cloud? A. Like a puddle's
like a buffalo: roaming, amorphous.
The problem of water
is that we are all water
but look so much like ground.
The problem of sky
is it looks like surface
but things fall off it all the time.

5. Entr'acte

Between acts we dismantle ourselves,
blow the spittle from our tongues,
empty our legs of bone debris
and attempt reduction by means of flame,
half-heartedly. It seems strange
to speak so plainly through grease-
paint, scratch so visibly
under our wigs as if we weren't bald
or balding, to chew Turkish delight
under incandescent light. It's not easy

here. We're ourselves in sheep's
clothing, naked in some veils,
repeating lines we thought we knew, slacklip-
staring at tattered copies of our scripts.
What's my line? What's the time?
We're neither here nor there.

Marilyn McCabe
from Perpetual Motion

Copyright © 2012 Marilyn McCabe

Photo from Nine Sinatra Songs: Brianne Bland

Photo from Surfer at the River Styx: JoAnn LaBrecque

Photos from Eiko and Koma's "Fragile": Karren Alenier


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 27, 2012 12:26 PM.

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