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Twyla Moves— A dance icon undeterred by the pandemic's confining stage
By Elyse Sommer
As we've passed a year into pandemic life, the usually busy best-selling writer Susan Orlean recently tweeted that, despite having much extra time during this long stretch in quasi-house-arrest, she's accomplished much less. Instead of adjusting her methods of gathering information for a new piece to make the most of what's available, she succumbed to a sense of exhaustion. As Orlean put it "Call it a late-pandemic crisis of productivity, of will, of enthusiasm, of purpose. Call it a bout of existential work-related ennui provoked partly by the realization that sitting in the same chair in the same room staring at the same computer for 12 straight months (and counting!) has left many of us feeling like burned-out husks, dim-witted approximations of our once-productive selves").
But then there's Twyla Tharp! For the 79-year-old dance legend, the pandemic has just given her a different kind of stage on which to create new work. That's why the best antidote to being Zoomed-out is to give Zooming another chance and watch Twyla Moves, the latest addition to the PBS American Master series. It's a genuine Zoomed gem.
Tharp has spent her long career bringing her hyperenergetic movements to stages ranging from Central Park to Broadway to movie screens. She's now turned those Zoom boxes to which the pandemic confined her into a unique example of dancers and their leader working together in an exciting new way. Their dancing individually and simultaneously in far apart locations is interspersed with Tharp's commentary and also footage from her extensively archived work.
Since Tharp is a classic example of a workaholic there isn't all that much of a personal history here to tag this as a biography. This is made clear in an old clip of an interview with Dick Cavett in which he asked her what she did to relax after a long spell of work, and she replied with "work more."
With Tharp almost constantly present in her box, that Dick Cavett clip is just one way to underscore Director Steven Cantor's skill in choosing what best and most dynamically gives us access to Tharp's personality and fits the work being created (a zoomed version of her ballet The Princess and the Goblin), and excerpts from decade-spanning archives into fess than an hour and a half.
Abut half the show is spent on the rehearsal of the new film which also features Misty Copeland of The American Ballet, with Maria Khoreva , Herman Cornejo , and Charlie Hodges — all in their own apartments. But Tharp doesn't just talk them through what she envisions for the work. She's a show-by-doing teacher so we also see her still amazingly vigorous movements.
The archival material include her early avant-garde dances in Central Park, the three-year production of Hair, and numerous collaborations with the likes of Mikhail Baryshnikov, Billy Joel, and Philip Glass. It.s clear that Tharp not only fostered experimental approaches in dance but also new standards of inclusion of dancers different in physicality and background in her company.
Though only limited time is allotted to where and how she grew up and her married life, Tharp does come through as a very sympathetic person, which is delightfully evident towards the end — courtesy of an in-person interchange with her long-time scenic designer Santo Loquasto who she's invited to watch th finished rehearsal on her bg computer. Loquasto is delighted and tells her he loves the funkiness of it. Take my word for it. you wIll too!
Twyla Moves is available free at pbs.org until April 23, 2021, and therefter to THIRTEEN Passsport members; one of the best way to spend your donation budget.
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Music by Lewis Rapkin
Cinematography by Jonathan Field
Film Editing by Lewis Rapkin
Cast: Benjamin Buza, Misty Copeland, Herman Cornejo, Kaitlyn Gilliland, Charlie Hodges, Maria Khoreva.
Available free at pbs.org until April 23, 2021; and thereafter to THIRTEEN Passsport members
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on April 4, 2021