Tuesday morning I ran from my gig teaching the kiddies, moved like a snail through notorious Atlanta traffic, to get to Georgia Public Broadcasting for the unveiling of Atlanta Ballet’s newest secret. They have commissioned some big wig, international choreographer to do a full-length work on the company. I heard about it a couple of days prior to the event and I started racking through my cobwebby memory Rolodex for who it might be.
Was it an up-and-comer? Some international Ballet Choreographer from Brussels or the Netherlands? Could it be some famous protégé of an oldie but goody cornerstone in the world of dance? I walked into the studio and saw some very revealing clues. It took my breath away. Could it be? No… surely not… my eyes are deceiving me.
Then, John McFall, the Artistic Director of the Atlanta Ballet, came out in his stylish jacket and gold tennis shoes to confirm what I already knew was true. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be in the same room with Twyla Tharp that day.
Twyla Tharp is a cornerstone! She is a history maker; in fact I studied her in college. She is the kind of woman, according to the anecdote she shared on Tuesday, who writes to the National Endowment for the Arts and says, “…I make dances not applications, please send money.” And they do. She has firsthand changed the face of Classic Modern dance. Tharp and some of her contemporaries were the postmodern dance movement. They took the vocabulary out of choreography, took dance out of the theater and became cerebral about movement. I have been among the masses auditioning for her. I have felt an entire room hold its breath in her presence. I know the visceral tangibility that fills the air when she walks in a room. For a dancer, it’s like being in the vicinity of Leonardo Davinci. She is an artist, an inventor, a genius. Twyla Tharp has made history, she is an essential figure in the world of dance and she is still moving us forward into the future. Here. Now. In Atlanta will premiere, with Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Twyla Tharp’s newest full-length ballet. Lucky us, Atlanta, this is a big deal. Tharp is one of the world’s greatest living choreographers, with an incredible body of work of over 135 dance pieces that span and mix genres and generations.
Her credits include ballets and modern concert work, with most of the giant dance companies in the world from New York City Ballet to The Paris Opera Ballet, from The Martha Graham Dance Company to Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Let us not forget Baryshnikov by Tharp. As if that weren’t an extraordinary feat in a choreographer’s career already, she has productions on Broadway and Vegas, television, books, and movies like Hair and Ragtime. Tharp is the recipient of many awards and grants, including a Tony Award, two Emmys, 19 honorary doctorates, the 2004 National Medal of the Arts and a 2008 Kennedy Center Honor. She truly is a force to be reckoned with, and now at 70, continues to be a trailblazer and movement inventor. The ballet is still in its early stages and Twyla was shy about divulging much information. This is what we do know. This ballet will be a full-evening work. She has been thinking about making this piece for about 20 years. It is an adaptation of a classic children’s story by George McDonald, she won’t tell which one, to a score of the Romantic composer Franz Schubert. Using the classical score, she says, “We are being pulled back to what we have been moving against.” Tharp is very clear that she wants to honor the music. There was an orchestra member in the audience and he expressed how excited they were to be working with her on this project. Among the sketchy details, Tharp did say that the story was written over 200 years ago but that there are elements that are timeless and relevant. The narrative will be a coming of age story with a female central character. This Ballet is expected to be classical in the sense that there will be a female ensemble on pointe. There will also be child performers and Tharp, now a grandmother, thinks they will have a bigger and bigger voice in the movement invention process. She loves working with the children because, “they are so brave, they don’t know any better.” On a visceral and pre-linguistic level, each character will have a goal and relevant purpose
. As far as this ballet’s overall aesthetic, we don’t know what to expect. Will it look more like a classical ballet or an avant-garde performance piece? I’ll tell you what, Atlanta, this little dancer can’t wait to find out. Ok, Atlanta Ballet, you’ve gotten Twyla Tharp and now you’ve got me. I was happy to learn that Georgia Public Broadcasting will be documenting the making of this ballet. This made me all warm and fuzzy inside. I love projects that get into the guts of a process and educate the audience. I, for one, am happy to be part of the process by sitting in your audiences, TV and theater, and writing about my experiences.
Atlanta Ballet is entertaining us with much more than the Tharp experience this year. There is a whole ballet season to experience. I’ll be checking out the remaining 2 events of this current season and next season in its entirety. I urge the greater Atlanta area, the country, the world to do the same. Here is a lineup of other events, performances and great choreographers to enjoy.
So grab some tickets and join me for The Atlanta Ballet’s wonderful 2011-2012 season.