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Twyla Tharp's "50th Anniversary Tour" Program as Satisfying as it is Exhausting

by Joanna G. Harris
October 19, 2015
Zellerbach Hall
Bancroft Way at Telegraph
(2430 Bancroft Ave.)
Berkeley, CA 94704
510.642.9988
Joanna G. Harris Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009. Contributor to reviews on culturevulture.net
Twyla Tharp's "50th Anniversary Tour" show Oct 16-18 at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Auditorium opened with Tharp's "First Fanfare" to music by composer John Zorn. It was followed by the Bay Area premiere of Tharp's "Preludes and Fugues," set to J.S. Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier" and then Tharp's "Second Fanfare" danced again to music by Zorn.

Tharp’s dancers in the two "Fanfares and "Preludes and Fugues" were mostly extraordinary. Tharp threw so much at the audience that I, an overexposed dance watcher, was exhausted from watching and taking in its form and structure. "The Well-Tempered Clavier" deserves clarity and even a semblance of music visualization. Given all of her classic training, the works seemed hectic, each section "topping" the next in design and dancer groupings. Trios were succeeded by duets. One by Savannah Lowery and John Selya was particularly charming. There were also a few good solo moments. The men danced with great skill. The women however seemed to disappear, their roles less featured other than as partners where they were swung and lifted. For the "Second Prelude," the dancers formed a circle, then twisted and turned a la a Balanchine ballet. It was, at last, a satisfying formation that completed the series of "Fanfares and "Preludes and Fugues."

The second Bay Area premiere Tharp's "Yowzie," celebrated vaudevillian humor and was set to the jazz music of Henry Butler, Jelly Roll Morten, “Fats” Waller and Wesley Wilson.

"Yowzie" apparently gleaned reference from characters and incidents in silent films and 1930's dance halls. There was a sloppy lady soloist who drooped throughout the riotous mime and wiggly bits by ladies in red costumes, the men were outfitted seemingly as pirates and city-slickers. Costume designer Santo Loquasto dressed them all in multi-colored, fragmented outfits. There was so much going on that sometimes the humor was lost. One very clear section was a "come on" from a flamboyant male character that almost succeeded.

Loud applause and great kudos to the company: John Selya, Rika Okamoto, Matthew Dibble, Ron Todorowski, Daniel Baker, Amy Ruggiero, Ramona Kelley, (a Berkeley girl), Nicholas Coppula, Eva Trapp, Savannah Lowery, Reed Tankersley and Kaitlyn Gillialand. How they survived the high energy, complex patterns, multiple changes of pace and direction that is characteristic of Tharp’s work is almost beyond belief.

The music selections of American jazz, for me, were the real hits of this number. The program reached out to today’s younger audiences packing in too many turns and lifts for this reviewer, but it was lively fun.
Ron Todorowski, Amy Ruggiero and John Selya in Twyla Tharp's “Yowzie.”

Ron Todorowski, Amy Ruggiero and John Selya in Twyla Tharp's “Yowzie.”

Photo © & courtesy of Ruven Afanador

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