Pacific Northwest Ballet has a crush on Twyla Tharp. The iconic American choreographer has spent the last year as Artist-in-Residence in PNB, and while we can’t be sure how many gushy entries PNB may have written about Twyla in their diary, their new all-Tharp production, Air Twyla, shows that Twyla is a pretty swell person to have a crush on.
Tharp’s versatility as a choreographer makes Brief Fling an impressive start to the show. Military drum rolls, classical pieces, and a fleeting moment of disco groove come in quick succession as Tharp uses the dancers to explore a hundred different moods and styles. As the piece switches wildly over and over again, it begins to feel a little like Whack-a-Mole. Then you get it: this is Twyla Tharp saying casually, “Hello. I’m Twyla Tharp, and I can do anything.” And it’s true: her choreography rings true every time. Though Kaori Nakamura and Sascha Radetsky came off a touch behind the beat, Tharp’s big finish leaves you excited for the next two acts.
There’s a lot to get excited about in Act II, as well. The words ‘world premiere’ always have a nice ring to them, and Alan Toussaint himself shows up to play piano. If you don’t know who Alan Toussaint is, that’s okay, because I’ll confess that I didn’t either when I showed up. The short answer: a man who plays some amazing piano. His cool New Orleans sound is as lively a part of Tharp’s new Waiting at the Station as is the actual dance. Tharp expertly blends the dancers with Toussaint’s piano throughout, as sensuous as the smoke curling around the rafters.
The plot line of the father and son that the piece intermittently follows feels lacking. Maybe it’s underdeveloped, or maybe it just pales in comparison to Laura Tisserand, who is completely bewitching here. Tall, graceful, and brooding, she is the clear standout in this piece—good luck taking your eyes off of her. She and Jonathan Porretta capture all the moody, sexy energy that this piece deserves.
When the curtain opens on the final act, enjoy the minivan-sized disco ball that turns McCaw Hall into the Starlite Lounge—it’s fabulous. Tharp continues to demonstrate her ability to blend styles of dance throughout Nine Sinatra Songs, meshing ballroom dance and ballet deliciously. The dance matches Sinatra’s voice to a T—svelte, polished, sleek. The only problem is that the piece rarely tries to do more than that. Only ‘Somethin’ Stupid’ has real character and humor; the other dances are satisfied just to be beautiful. Is that enough? With the disco ball, maybe.
By the curtain, Air Twyla is a smart exploration of a choreographer who has pushed and innovated modern dance. Though not quite as bold as Tharp herself, it’s a treat well worth your Friday night.
Through October 6