Twyla Tharp, choreographer-in-residence, gives a master class
Twyla Tharp and her company ended their five- week June residency at Boston University with a lecture-demonstration of the fruits of their labor. The residency had a twofold purpose: to introduce 40 students to intensive Tharp in both technique and repertory and to give Tharp a month in the country at BU's Osgood Hill Estate in Andover to develop new choreography.
The shape of the evening at the Boston University Theater, where the lecture demonstration was given, looked like Tharp: fast-moving, supercharged with energy, and a no-nonsense feel about getting on with it. Tharp, dressed in school- marm blouse and skirt, presided at the stage-right podium. In her maturity (she is 39 years old, with 15 years of her company behind her), she has some things on her mind beyond the current work. One senses a striving for permanence and continity as she faces this nest phase in her life.
Tharp as a performer is the best exponent of her own work, but it seems that we will no longer see her dancing. Her march-april appearances with her company at the Winter Garden Theater in New York, as the lady in love with life but dismayed by the shackles in her full-length "When We Were very Young," was the hail- and-farewell to her performing career.
The demonstration of Tharp classes in the lecturedemonstration in Boston suggests what a Tharp school curriculum might be like. The emphasis would be on ballet, more and more the basis of Tharp's choreography, plus "borrowings" from other techniques. Company member Christine Uchida gave ballet exercises to a group of students, then Shelley Washington conducted a set in "Graham" technique. When Sara Rudner, a longtime associate of Tharp's came on stage to lead the students in a 20- count phrase with an 8-count arm movement, the Tharp style came into focus. Tharp commented, "These are meant to suggest that there are infinite innumerable possibilities for movement."
The students performed two sections from Tharp's "Ocean's Motion" (music by Chuck Berry), then ended with a progression of calisthenics, led by Tharp in the manner of Lady Macbeth turned Marine Corps drill sergeant. Tharp explained that she considered teaching a matter of taste, "good taste, I hope," but her rugged goals for the students take precedence over patience and sympathy. When the Tharp company finished its 1978 Boston University residency two of the students joined the company, but none of the 1980 group has received a similar invitation. Tharp would like to establish a school in New York if suitable quarters could be found, because of the need to train young dancers for her demanding work.
The second half of the lecture-demonstration was meant to show the new work in progress by the company. Tharp introduced the material by saying, "We will keep the houselights up so you will realize that this is a rehearsal but we make no apologies." Indeed, no apologies were necessary for the three pieces shown: three quartets reworked from older material, a chevron-shaped work set to "Liberty Bell" and "Rock of Ages," and a stunning symmetrical duet set to music by J. S. Bach. The Bach duet for Uchida and William Whitener, former members of the Joffrey Ballet, and six other dancers gives further proof of the dissolving barriers between ballet and modern dance to create a contemporary style beyond the mere merging of steps. The virtuosity and precision of ballet have been expanded by the freedom of expression associated with the most creative modern dance choreographers such as Tharp.
The Twyla Tharp Company will appear at the Saratoga (N.Y.) Performing Arts Center, from July 28 to Aug. 2; at Ravinia Festival, Ill.; and then depart for performances in Europe.