Twyla Tharp Dance in Minimalism and Me


By Ron Fassler


“Okay folks, this is how it all started,” said Twyla Tharp at last night’s opening of her latest dance concert at the Joyce Theatre in Chelsea (or words very much to that effect). Entering onto the stage, the seventy-seven-year-old choreographer, spoke directly to the audience, still very much the straight-talking Indiana-born farm girl she will always be. And throughout the first act of the New York premiere of “Minimalism and Me,” Ms. Tharp served as narrator to her own life story in modern dance, standing to the side of the stage filling us in on how she came to define her methodologies and intentions, creating a style completely her own that greatly influenced 20th century dance (and now continues on into the 21st). With members of her company hurling themselves about the stage in the manner which we have become accustomed, the Tharp legacy is in no danger of being perceived as antiquated, since it was so far ahead of its time at its creation.


Self-deprecatingly, Ms. Tharp makes fun of her early minimalism. Something along the lines of “Can you believe I had the guts to do this?” And she’s not kidding. One of her earliest pieces was nothing more (and nothing less) than a dancer holding a relevé while Petula Clark’s 1965 hit record “Downtown” played its full 3:05 length. Recreated on the stage of the Joyce, it is a remarkable show of stamina on the part of the dancer assigned the difficult task, and it is also the mark of Ms. Tharp’s stamina, who is famous for making her points with grit and determination (the Indiana farm girl again). Except for Petula Clark’s singing, there was no music that accompanied the dance pieces Ms. Tharp narrated for us in the evening’s first act. All the better to pay close attention to the movements, as well as the hieroglyphics projected onto a giant screen, taken from notebooks detailing how this kind of choreography was notated. It served as a backdrop and fascinating glimpse into a process, that while potentially taking the mystery out of things, only added to how intricately complicated (and how carefully planned) such seemingly improvisatory dances were birthed.

The evening’s second half took off in a burst of music and breathtaking movement, as Ms. Tharp’s 1971 “Eight Jelly Rolls” claimed the stage. Using the compositions of Jelly Roll Morton (and Charles Luke), the spicy, old-time piano roll jazz music gave the listener syncopated rhythms to bounce along to, as well as often jarring dance, that sometimes went against what the music might be telling a body to sway to. In a famous bit of choreography, one of the dancers appears to be drunk (performed comically by Matthew Dibble), who audaciously achieved a perfect combination of stumbling and rolling. In addition to Mr. Dibble, the small company consisted of Ron Todorowski, Reed Tankersely, Kara Chan, Kellie Drobnick and Mary Beth Hansohn, all of whom excelled. Credit must also be given to Ms. Tharp’s longtime collaborator in staging her dances, Sara Rudner.


In what only can be described as a rambunctious finale, Ms. Tharp took to the stage herself and danced up a storm, leaving the audience in a stage of wild euphoria. It was that kind of night at the Joyce Theatre, and the good news is that “Minimalism and Me” will be there until December 9th.



November 14-December 9, 2018 at the Joyce Theatre, 175 Eighth Avenue, New York City