Twyla Tharp Celebrates 50 Years

by Heather DeSaulniers

Cal Performances brings the Twyla Tharp 50th Anniversary Tour to Zellerbach this month.

Legendary dancemaker Twyla Tharp marks 50 years of choreography with an epic 10-week tour, beginning in Dallas and wrapping up in New York. An inspiring team of dancers, designers and composers join Tharp in this momentous journey celebrating her five decades in dance.

When plans for the Twyla Tharp 50th Anniversary Tour were announced earlier this year, Cal Performances’ associate director Rob Bailis traveled to New York to preview Tharp’s tour repertory. He recalls the transforming nature of his visit: “Being in the studio with this amazing presence created a visceral reaction—watching bodies revel in exquisite vocabulary and form… so fresh and inventive.” Bailis was committed to presenting Tharp at Zellerbach Hall. "It's … an honor to … introduce a new generation on the West Coast to an artist who has contributed so much to American dance,” he says.

Tharp’s contribution to her field is wide reaching, incorporating modern dance, ballet, film, musical theater—even literature. Her game-changing, pioneering work—“Eight Jelly Rolls” (1971), “Deuce Coupe” (1973), “Push Comes to Shove” (1976 dance and 1992 book), “Nine Sinatra Songs” (1982), “In The Upper Room” (1986) and “Movin’ Out” (2002), to name just a few—have established Tharp as, in Bailis’ words, “a superstar of contemporary dance making.” But her tour is about more than commemorating history and lineage. With two premiere dances on its program, the Twyla Tharp 50th Anniversary Tour is very much a celebration of the new.

The first premiere, “Preludes and Fugues,” is set to selections from J.S. Bach’s seminal Baroque tomes, the Well-Tempered Clavier I and II. These two volumes contain a series of paired preludes and fugues; each investigates a single major or minor key. In the prelude, Bach establishes an atmosphere and texture for each key. He then delves deeper into that same key with the corresponding fugue, revealing how musical lines can be simultaneously independent and interdependent. With Tharp’s incomparable movement language and Bach’s musical mastery, “Preludes and Fugues” promises to be a combination. “Yowzie,” the program’s second premiere, embraces an entirely different musical tradition: American jazz. This vivid genre, with its dissonant intervals and improvisation, non-chord notes and syncopated rhythms, provides a vast and diverse landscape ripe for choreographic exploration. A Fanfare (with choreography by Tharp and music by John Zorn) precedes each dance, heralding its arrival.

While the company performances are the centerpiece of Tharp’s engagement, Cal Performances has also designed a mini-residency of sorts, which reflects a new approach this season. Recently, it launched the Berkeley RADICAL program (Research and Development Initiative in Creativity, Arts and Learning). This artistic literacy endeavor seeks to “present the world’s greatest artists in a different context with alternate points of entry into the work,” explains Bailis. To that end, a number of surrounding events have been planned while Tharp and company are in town. The Berkeley RADICAL program hosts an open dance class taught by one of the company dancers, an artist talk/book signing with Tharp and a conversation with Brenda Way of ODC and Davitt Moroney discussing how Bach’s music continues to inspire choreographers.

October 16 ?18

Twyla Tharp’s 50th Anniversary Tour

Zellerbach Hall, Bancroft Way at Dana Street,

UC Berkeley campus