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Juilliard Dance

Published: April 15, 2003
Category: review

Tharp - master of bodies in motion - rides a cresting wave

Choreographer Twyla Tharp’s torrentially prolific energy is much in evidence lately.

As the director and choreographer of “Movin’ Out,” a dance drama set to Billy Joel’s most-loved songs, she has a Broadway hit.

As a maker of more than 125 dances, her choreographic works can be found on video store shelves and her touring company can expect sold-out audiences.

Tharp also attracts some of the best modern dancers in the world – dancers who are hungry to cut their teeth on her demonically fast, fiery style. Such combination of forces means that her dances roar.

This was the case with Tharp’s “Surfer at the River Styx,” which was performed by a bravura cast of six dancers Saturday night at The Performing Arts Center at Purchase College.

In “Surfer,” featured dancer Charlie Hodges slid with arms like floating rudders onto lighting designer’s Scott Zielinski’s murkily outlined staged. As though surfing the sought-after wave, Hodges dipped, turned and then fell.

But as Tharp’s title alludes, Hodges’ fall is the mortal kind. His wave metaphorically carried him to the river Styx, the principal river of the mythological underworld Hades that separates the living from the dead.

Composer Donald Knaack’s soundscape disgorges clanking, shuddering aural streams of percussive sounds that further shaped the hellish atmosphere. Meanwhile, Hodges is flattened and twisted like a pretzel by a gleeful pair of harpies, dancers Jason McDole and Lynda Sing.

As reckoning-hour bells chimed, soloist dancer Matthew Dibble appeared flanked by the gargoylesque gesturing performers Emily Coates and Dario Vaccaro. Dibble’s ethereal physicality initially marked him apart from his two stalkers, but eventually he danced in unison with the pair whose hops and shudders resembled the mechanically sharp footwork of Michael Jackson and the syncopated cool of a hip-hopper.

When Hodges appeared again, his compact body rode fluid waves of leaps and high-legged extensions and then jerked like an electric shock patient into spine- coiling freezes. As his face reflected both his purgatorial experience and his love of teetering on oblivion’s edge, he stole the show.

When the stage momentarily flashed white like a lightning bolt’s landing, Hodges and Dibble frenetically moved downstage.

In front of a floor light that casts grotesque shadows of the dancers on the wall, the two men danced faster and faster like moths to a lethal flame.

Then, in quick reversal, Tharp abruptly changed gears: Bathed in rose-colored lighting and sleek-fitted whites leotards, the dancers re-entered the stage in slow motion to David Kahne’s harmonic coda as though washed ashore on the other side of hell.

In the finale, the four men carried Lynda Ding aloft in a soaring split. Transformed from a gargoyle to an angel, she exits, surfing the air.

The evening’s program commenced with “Westerly Round” and “Even the King,” both flirtation studies that successfully emphasized the dancers’ technical verve and Tharp’s ease in blending ballet steps with other dance genres such as Western ho-down and the waltz.

The Journal News

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