Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Brief Tharp Diversion

Following up on this post: when discussing Tharp’s work with A.V. and why I don’t regard her as highly as Paul Taylor or even Mark Morris, I realized that part of the problem for me is the lack of dance images in her work. She has a mastery of movement - an ability to break movement apart and put it back together so that simple steps are seen in new and clever ways – but lacks that gift for creating/assembling a movement or placing a configuration of bodies in a way, that, no matter how theatrically artificial, feels like something that happens in one’s own (interior) life, as critic Robert Garis liked to describe great dance images. It’s the difference between finding yourself participating in the dance with one’s own body (Tharp’s works do make you feel this), and feeling emotionally and spiritually involved in the work when the emotion isn’t adrenaline-evoked elation but communal experience. She lacks the intuition of an image-maker.

Tied to this is the lack of stillness in her work – not actual motionlessness, but the feeling of breathing, which is in itself real stillness (not-breathing is a void). Sometimes it seems that no matter the dance (and what steps the dancers are actually performing), everyone in a mature Tharp work is jitterbugging like mad in the California sixties - this is where the energy level of her dances often resides. And it’s for that reason that I suspect she is sometimes criticized as being too commercial: not because she does commercial ventures (almost every great choreographer has done “s/lighter” works to sell tickets), but because her works, while sometimes brilliant, are not transcendent. As a result, her ingenuity in movement comes across as a clever gag – slickness. And I can think of no other choreographer who would have written a book titled, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. The polar opposite of Balanchine’s “one can’t talk about such things.”

Now back to Balanchine, NYCB, and my favorite dancer, Suzanne Farrell…


Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

Thank you, AG, for that. Having seen more Tharp ballets, I think the word, "clever" comes to mind, but not necessarily the word, "genius". She is not as iconoclastic as some, but she seems to try to combine things that simply don't belong together. It is pleasant on the eyes, but a bit tiresome on the mind.

At least that is my VERY amateur opinion.

CrimsonCatholic said...

I'm tagging you and AV, because I think you will both write good entries on the subject.