People are always worrying what Twyla Tharp can possibly do next. She's such a master of the moment that it's hard to believe she'd let it go before tapping it to the utmost.
Standing still, though--even to contemplate--goes totally against her grain. Tharp's craft won't let her. She works her dances within the confines of strict limits. Exhausting all options, being epic, isn't her way at all, and the program Tharp's Dance Foundation is showing at Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater this weekend is an invitation to see where she has moved and from whence she comes.
Her 1971's "Eight Jelly Rolls" gave yesterday's opening night audience an early image of the familiar Tharp. This is an immaculately restless dance--there are no men and very few full stops. The women, in their tuxedo overalls by Kermit Love, have that tailored look. One is unlikely to encounter as tipsy a concoction of tap and strut and arabesque as in this dancing. The cast's three leads are totally distinct despite their common uniform and parlance. Jennifer Way's angularity projects a matter-of-fact air. Shelley Washington's manner is supremely supple and lush. Christine Uchida, in Tharp's shoes, is the tough little clown who lacks a still point. "Rolls" immortalizes women alone, youthfullness, energy. The Jelly Roll Morton music is easy listening.
The 1979 "Baker's Dozen," too, is a caprice for beautiful people. In their Santo Loquasto white flannels, the males are boys yet and the females women already. There is more balletic technique than in "Rolls" and a hilariously intricate spatial structuring with wild entrances and untamed exits. It is a pristine world though, as clear and relaxed as the sound of Willie "The Lion" Smith's tinkling keyboard.
Between these samples of well-known Tharp came "Assorted Quartets," a work of the late '70s, and the 1980 "Short Stories." They are disturbing dances. They're not, though, expressionistic outpourings. Tharp works with changes of mood and silent acting as skillfully as with perpetual motion and atmospheric glamor. It was fascinating to see the difference silence and music made in the mood of the first two quartets, though the dancing was similar. Music gave the intricate partnering a light, mellow touch. Manners made the difference in the last two quartets, with the final "Mud" as brutal for its men and women as a bout of catch-as-catch-can. "Stories" dealt with the differentiation of movement and emoting in a cubistic way.
Tharp's brief run here gives an inkling of her current interests. Due at American Film Institute in June is a video biography of her dances. Shown in previews earlier this week, its climax was an ode on the theme of decay. In one decade this dancer has moved to the antipode.
The program will be repeated tonight at 7:30 and tomorrow at 2.