A half century of dance: Choreographer Twyla Tharp celebrates 50 years

Two Twyla Tharp veterans, Matthew Dibble and Rika Okamoto, perform in "Yowsie." Ruven Afanador photo
Two Twyla Tharp veterans, Matthew Dibble and Rika Okamoto, perform in “Yowsie.”
Ruven Afanador photo

While many choreographers would look to a 50th anniversary tour to program a greatest hits package, Twyla Tharp, who will be at The Granada Theatre tonight, does the opposite in a career of bold moves. Instead she’s created an evening of two new works. “Preludes and Fugues” raids the extensive pieces in J.S. Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” and bears the influences of all those that came before her in modern dance: Merce Cunningham, Jerome Robbins, Martha Graham and George Balanchine. And “Yowzie” turns from classical to jazz, with bright costumes and a soundtrack of early ragtime and jazz.

“Preludes” is “the world as it ought to be,” she says, “and Yowzie is the world as it is.” Ms. Tharp is quoting herself, and it’s a phrase that graces the evening’s program in her artistic statement. That tension between fantasy and reality has long been part of her work.

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Three Steps Forward, One Back: Twyla Tharp Dance Delivers in the End, But Is Cute on the Way

©David Bazemore

A sold-out Campbell Hall crowd on Friday night got a heady dose of Twyla Tharp’s choreography as her recently regrouped (in 1999) Twyla Tharp Dance performed four works that brought Santa Barbara crowds up to date on Tharp’s most recent work, while delving back briefly for a look at Tharp’s beginnings. For relative newcomers it was a night of contrasts; for longtime aficionados, it was a confirmation of the changes Tharp has brought to modern dance.

The company is a talented, well chosen collection of dancers, all very strong by themselves, and the evening’s program introduced them to us two or three at a time, culminating with almost the entire company participating in the rousing finale. But more of that later.

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