What’s a world-class, universally renowned powerhouse of a choreographer doing up in Greene County? Twyla Tharp and members of her dance company have spent a month in residency at the Catskill Mountain Foundation in Hunter, reworking and rehearsing dance programs (a little Brahms, some Beethoven and something entirely new) and will present an informal show this weekend.
“The program will not be wardrobed or lit,” says Tharp. “These dancers are the A-Team; some have been with me for a very long time. We were able to get all three pieces up in two weeks… And we’re actually working in three spaces simultaneously.”
Tharp has choreographed more than 160 works, including 129 dances, six Hollywood movies, four full-length ballets and four Broadway shows. She has created critically acclaimed and technically unique forms of movement, combining jazz, ballet and modern dance that live in a category of their own. She has also worked with great musicians – Billy Joel and David Byrne, to name a couple – incorporating her own wit and inventiveness with their music.
The Pathways to Dance residency is part of an annual eight-county Capital Region initiative, in concert with Manhattan’s Joyce Theater. Designed to support new dance creation and presentation through a variety of intensive workshops, performances, exhibitions, lectures and master classes, Pathways to Dance is funded in part by the New York State Regional Economic Development Council, administered by the Electric City Arts and Entertainment Council.
Tharp talks about how rare it is to come across this much studio space in New York City. “Even Balanchine didn’t have three spaces in the City. Space is one big item, and there’s no replacing air, good food, open hearts, a willingness to see something succeed. Up here, there’s no traffic, few people, no distractions; you don’t have to deal with the D train being canceled for the day.”
Up early and at the gym by 6 a.m. most days, the 74-year-old dancer keeps pace with her much-younger troupe by driving herself as hard as she expects everyone else to work. Tharp extols the virtues of boxing to build strength and stamina (she worked with Teddy Atlas) and tosses out words that she doesn’t particularly like, such as “experiment” and “process.” “Experiment means there’s a possibility of failure. I don’t see it that way. I see everything as being of use. It may or may not come to the surface, but I don’t see it as failing.”
What Tharp does see is the architectural quality of dance. “I majored in Art History. Architecture is something I’m aware of. My father was a builder. I’ve always been taken with the whole process of what it is to put mud and bricks together, and also what it is to build a corner, or to join two planes. Dance exists in both space and time simultaneously; no other artform does. So you’re constantly building these elements. You have to think in three dimensions. Movement is energy and space and time.”
Twyla Tharp Pathways to Dance: A Showing of Works-in-Progress, Saturday, April 16, 7:30 p.m., advance $25/$20/$7, door $30/$25/$7, Orpheum Film & Performing Arts Center, 6050 Main Street, Tannersville; (518) 263 2000, www.catskillmtn.org/events/performances/2016-04-16-twyla-tharp-dance-showcase-of-works-in-875.html.