National Tour Dance Review: TWYLA THARP – 50TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR (Auditorium Theatre in Chicago)

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by Lawrence Bommer on November 5, 2015

in Theater-Chicago,Theater-Regional,Tours


After 50 years of high-impact dancing, it’s worth taking a five-city victory lap. Twyla Tharp’s troupe, featured at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre this weekend, is offering, however, no 110-minute retrospective: Two of the three offerings in Twyla Tharp’s 50th Anniversary Tour are new commissions (but very characteristic–no new ground broken here). Tharp’s 13 mature and tested dancers deliver their usual literally moving experience as an iconic choreographic legacy is once more present at its own creation.

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

If one word fits Tharp’s designs in motion, it’s “loose-limbed”–to the point where divisive arms and legs seem directed by different brains. Seemingly improvisatory, these very designed dances have a feckless insouciance that’s sheer youth in motion. Too fluid to ever feel finished, Tharp in effect deconstructs classical ballet form, turning the formal into the frenetic but with so easy a grace that the transformation seems total.

Matthew Dibble and Rika Okamoto in Yowzie costumes

The long opener, “Preludes and Fugues” is billed as “the world as it ought to be.” Satisfyingly skillful, it’s a series of conversational duos and trios set to Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavichord, playfully performed but no doubt exhausting to execute. (A particular delight is the male dancer flummoxed by the sheer interchangeability of his would-be lady loves.) This is vintage Tharp, perpetually moving and contagiously joyful dancers smiling hard as they spin, embrace, hop, lean out and in, and indulge in the jazzy shrugs that Bob Fosse all but bequeathed to Tharp. At times mechanical, mixing up sexes without altering emotions, the company (the men in khaki and the women in contrasting tunics) indulge in quirky, rapid-fire courtship rituals that end in a giant Matisse-like daisy chain. All connections get reinforced by a group grab.

Ron Todorowski Amy Ruggiero, and John Selya in Yowzie costumes

With zestful music by John Zorn and performed by American Brass Quintet, the brief “Second Fanfare” (the “First Fanfare” was cut from the stage but not the program) is a set of tantalizing silhouettes, both before and behind a red screen. The sheer anonymity of these rushing figures carries an abstract energy immediately into the final tour de troupe.

Matthew Dibble and Rika Okamoto in Yowzie costumes

“Yowzie,” a tribute to American jazz (Jelly Roll Morton, Wesley Wilson, Henry Butler, and “Fats” Waller), plays like a sped-up Mardi Gras soiree. Dolled up in super-colorful commedia-style costumes by the great Santo Loquasto, the ripe and restless ensemble delight in dancing the stride-piano stuffings out of assorted cakewalks, blues ballads, burlesque numbers, hoochie-coochie rousers, Waller’s “Viper’s Drag,” and other honky-tonk delights. The result is a funky fiesta that’s as carefree as it comes. Typical Twyla. To think how much discipline and dedication go into seeming so loose-limbed.

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

photos by Ruven Afanador

Twyla Tharp – 50th Anniversary Tour
Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University
50 E. Congress Parkway
ends on November 8, 2015
for tickets, call (312) 341-2300 or visit Auditorium Theatre
tour continues through November 22, 2016
for cities, dates, and tickets, visit Twyla Tharp

for more info on Chicago Theater, visit Theatre in Chicago

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