National Tour Dance Review: TWYLA THARP: 50TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR (Wallis)

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by Tony Frankel on October 2, 2015

in Theater-Chicago,Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional,Tours


While most American dance companies go on tour with a “best of” program, Twyla Tharp has refreshingly opted to offer two world premieres for her 50th Anniversary Tour, seen at the Wallis last night (the tour continues through November, 2015). Similar in structure but different in feel, both “Preludes and Fugues” and “Yowzie” utilize dancers who have been working with Tharp in other incarnations, but the newer dancers have the Tharp stamp all over them, too. This means you get personality-drenched bursts of joyful souls who, chameleonlike, go from Broadway to jazz to ballet to modern—and everything in between.

Matthew Dibble and Rika Okamoto in Yowzie costumes

Both works—slathered in this signature Tharp style—were comprised of dozens of vignettes, mostly duets and triads. Tharp notes in the program that “Preludes and Fugues” is the world as it ought to be, “Yowzie” as it is. The “Fanfares” (two very short pieces which introduced each 40-minute work) celebrate both. It did seem as if “Preludes” portrayed more harmonious situations than “Yowzie,” which spoke more to vanity and greed in relationships, but both were so saturated in quirkiness and bounce that the only thing that truly separated these works was James Ingalls’ lights and Santo Loquasto’s costumes and set design.

Daniel Baker, Ramona Kelley, Nicholas Coppula, Eva Trapp-Coppula in Bach costumes

For “Preludes,” set to Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, each of the six women wore cheerleader tunics in rich pastels (one in cornflower, plum, marigold, kelly green, etc.), and the six men in beige pants and similarly-colored pirate shirts. But “Yowzie,” set to American jazz standards (“Buddy Bolden’s Blues,” “Viper’s Drag”) hotly performed by Henry Butler/Steven Bernstein with The Hot 9, Loquasto went all out. The crazy colorful quilt patterns can best be described as a collision between the Renaissance, the Venice Boardwalk counter culture, and Glastonbury, England astro-hippies (or maybe the love child of Hair and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum).

Ron Todorowski, Amy Ruggiero with pointed finger, John Selya looking away in Yowzie costumes

The “First Fanfare” happened rather quickly, and with the air conditioning intentionally turned off at the onset, and rather grating music by John Zorn, it was an oddly unwelcoming entrance to an evening filled with delight and dancer prowess that ultimately succumbed to a surprising sameness (the air was soon turned up, by the way). Both pieces interpolated wacky, whimsical, playful moves and that jerky-smooth ballet/ballroom Tharpian mash-up. Even the less kaleidoscopic “Preludes” saw skipping and the funky chicken.

Ron Todorowski Amy Ruggiero, and John Selya in Yowzie costumes

“Yowzie” opened with the “Second Fanfare,” a visual feast which had the dancers silhouetted by a gorgeous red back drop. Then we saw a display of early Tharp, almost as if she was celebrating what made her her instead of looking towards the next 50 years. This, considering no emotional connection to the program, remained unexpectedly engaging. However, about halfway into the low-down, honky-tonk, ragtime, jitterbug, strip-tease, informed funfest (dancers actually take on characters), a detachment set in.

The dancers are John Selya, Rika Okamoto, Matthew Dibble, and Ron Todorowski. Newer to Tharp are Daniel Baker, Amy Ruggiero, Ramona Kelley, Nicholas Coppula, Eva Trapp, Savannah Lowery, Reed Tankersley, Kaitlyn Gilliland, and Eric Otto.

Matthew Dibble and Rika Okamoto in Yowzie costumes

photos by Ruven Afandor

Twyla Tharp: 50th Anniversary Tour
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
Bram Goldsmith Theater
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills
ends on October 4, 2015
for tickets, call 310.746.4000 or visit
tour continues through November, 2016
for cities, dates, and tickets, visit

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