Straight from Twyla's Mouth

posted by Margaret Fuhrer on Thursday, Mar 20, 2014
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Juilliard students rehearsing Baker's Dozen. Photo by Jeffrey Cuyubamba, courtesy Juilliard.

This weekend, the students of Juilliard's dance department will perform three very different masterworks: Eliot Feld's Celtic-flavored The Jig Is Up; Lar Lubovitch's Concerto Six Twenty-Two, with its celebrated duet for two men; and Twyla Tharp's casually virtuosic Baker's Dozen. Though longtime Tharp dancer and repetiteur Shelley Washington set Baker's Dozen on the dancers, Tharp herself took time to work with them as well—a rare opportunity for students. DM spoke with Juilliard senior Evan Schwarz about Baker's Dozen and dancing for Tharp.

 

What has been most challenging about Baker's Dozen?
There’s a very small amount of unison. For the first 10 or 12 minutes of the piece, everyone is always doing something different. You’re connected to the other dancers, but never in step with them, so it's easy to lose your place. It’s also extremely fast movement, but the overall look should be one of calm. You have to be mellow and speedy, an odd but fun combination.

 

What advice has Shelley Washington given that's unlocked the work for you?
She’s really allowed us to find the movement for ourselves. She said something that Twyla actually said to her: Know you’re great until you’re told you’re not. Don't let anything get in your way.

 

How much time did you have with Twyla Tharp?
She visited while we were rehearsing in the studio. We did a few runs, and she watched, gave some notes, and then talked generally to the group about how we should feel while dancing the piece. She told us to dance like we're a community—not to play to the audience, but to act as if we're a family having a good time together. The idea is to be lively but not showy.

 

Tharp is known for being tough. What was she like?
Once she arrived, we all stood up a little straighter; we were definitely nervous. But she was nice, just quiet and to the point. She didn’t say much, but what she did say was calm and helpful. She wasn’t scary—after the first ten minutes, at least.