Twyla Tharp: ‘You Dig Down, You Settle in, You Don’t Stop’

“OK, is everybody’s gum ready?”

It’s not a question most choreographers ask their dancers before a run-through of a work, but Twyla Tharp has always gone her own way. Her career — Tharp is on the cusp of her 60th year as a dance maker — has displayed breathtaking range, from experimental masterpieces (“The Fugue” from 1970 exists in a class by itself) to Broadway hits. All of the work has this: exquisite technique matched with effortless ease.

But back to the gum. It sets the tone for “Ocean’s Motion,” a 1975 melding of coolness and groove to Chuck Berry songs, in which five dancers, with the air of bored teenagers, loop around one another with flirtatious spins and saunter across the stage in loping, bopping runs. What does the bubble gum they chomp during “Too Pooped to Pop” give them? Insouciance.

“The curtain goes up and it’s like, You’ve got to be kidding,” Tharp, 82, said in an interview. “It’s James Dean, it’s, like, slunk down. It’s cool.”

Tharp with Herman Cornejo, one of two dancers performing a new solo, “Brel,” set to songs by Jacques Brel.Credit…Julieta Cervantes for The New York Times

Cornejo.Credit…Julieta Cervantes for The New York Times
Daniel Ulbricht, the other “Brel” soloist.Credit…Julieta Cervantes for The New York Times

“Ocean’s Motion” is the vintage opener of Tharp’s latest program at the Joyce Theater, which begins Tuesday and runs through Feb. 25. The program also includes two new works: “Brel,” a male solo of breadth and power set to music by Jacques Brel; and “The Ballet Master” to music by Simeon ten Holt and Vivaldi, in which Don Quixote, Sancho Panza and Dulcinea make an appearance by way of the performers John Selya, Daniel Ulbricht and Cassandra Trenary.

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