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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.

 American dancer, choreographer and author Twyla Tharp lives and works in New York City. In 1966 she formed her own company, Twyla Tharp Dance. Her work often utilizes classical music, jazz and contemporary pop music. UCSB Arts & Lectures photo


American dancer, choreographer and author Twyla Tharp lives and works in New York City. In 1966 she formed her own company, Twyla Tharp Dance. Her work often utilizes classical music, jazz and contemporary pop music.
UCSB Arts & Lectures photo

Santa Barbarans will have a chance to perform in "The One Hundreds" Saturday at Alameda Park. Tony Russell photo

Santa Barbarans will have a chance to perform in “The One Hundreds” Saturday at Alameda Park.
Tony Russell photo

The jazz of “Yowsie” is a call back to her first-ever work with music, “Eight Jelly Rolls” from 1971. Before that, her first five years of works were all silent.

“I didn’t use music in those first five years because I know how powerful that is and how audiences turn to it for guidance and what’s happens,” she says. “I wanted to learn those lessons myself through movement.”

It was an interesting decision, leaving music out of the equation. Ms. Tharp grew up in a musical household. Her mother was a concert pianist. She played several instruments as a child. And her criteria for music is simple.

“I’ve said a thousand times there are only two kinds of music. 1. Good. 2. Bad.”

This is how Ms. Tharp talks in interviews. Her sentences are not rambling. They come out of her mouth fully formed and purpose-driven, precise. Questions about looking back over her career don’t interest her, and questions about creativity lead to her recommending the book she wrote on the subject, 2003’s “The Creative Habit.”

Asked what she learned about the human body over her decades working with it, she says, “I confirmed what I always suspected: there is an infinite number of possibilities in the human body and human mind.”

Ms. Tharp is bringing an old classic to town, just not as part of the evening.

“The One Hundreds” is a work designed for non-dancers, a set of 100 11-second movements doled out twenty at a time to groups of five who perform them simultaneously. It’s both chaotic and filled with patterns, and UCSB’s Arts & Lectures put out a call to the community to be a part of “The One Hundreds.” The result will happen at 3 p.m. at Alameda Park on Saturday.

Having performed “The One Hundreds” over 25 times since 1970, Ms. Tharp says things haven’t changed in the outcome that her set of instructions produces.

“The physical body is the physical body and ‘The One Hundreds’ is constructed for the human being. It’s pretty much the same as it ever was . . . It does what it does. It invites the community – children, older people, people in wheelchairs, anyone who wants to come and be part of a moving group and have that experience. And that is still valid.”

“Twyla Tharp 50th Anniversary Tour”
When: 8 p.m. today
Where: The Granada Theater, 1214 State St.
Cost: $20-$53
Information: (805) 893-3535, www.artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu

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