October 21, 2022
Back in 1973, Robert Joffrey invited Twyla Tharp to choreograph a ballet called Deuce Coupe,which shook up ballet audiences by meshing modern and ballet to the sounds of the Beach Boys performed against a visual backdrop of graffiti.
Some 12 years later, when Tharp returned to BAM after a three year hiatus, she astonished everyone in the theater with a "sneaker" and "toe shoe" ballet to a mesmerizing score by Philip Glass called In The Upper Room. One year later she was invited by Michael Baryshnikov to join American Ballet Theater and that season they revived In The Upper Room---again to ecstatic audience response.
Now, over three decades later, In The Upper Room still excites, even if the City Center stage compresses the ballet's outlines. These days, Tharp does not have the luxury of her own company. Instead, she invites notable dancers from around the world to work with her.
Immensely capable, the dancers throw themselves into Tharp's demonically tricky choreography, sealing gulping leaps inside sprints, and endless turns that disappear through the white mist into the darkness by lighting designer Jennifer Tipton.
When the curtain opens, the "stompers" Kaitlin Gilliland and Stephanie Peterson are dressed in black and white striped, billowy tops and bottoms by Norma Kmali. They announce the pounding whirlwind to come with arms pumping hard against jogs and serpentine lines.
A powerful opening, the center meanders through remarkable yet repetitive sequences. Dancers fly through the air into awaiting arms. Stripped of their shirts, three sterling men--Richard Villaverde, Lloyd Knight, Reed Tankersley -- pound out a physical workout of shoulders shimmying over split leaps, tilted arabesques and flying spins to audience yelps.
Swank and romantic, Nine Sinatra Songs display breathlessly intricate ballroom dance partnering. Each couple echoes emotions emanating from a Frank Sinatra song. Defiant couples, merge with sweethearts, and steamy grasps. In particular, Cassandra Treneary along with her partner Benjamin Freemantle melt into the liquor doused "One For My Baby" with a seductive elan. Effortless turns and rocky lunges sharpen the taut conversation between the fiery Jeanette Delgado and the Baryshnikov channeler, Danny Ulbricht.
The satisfied audience stepped away from the performance with a renewed view of popular ballet.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis