Dancers & Companies

Early Tharp Lovers: We've Got Great News for You

As Time Goes By, with Ann Marie DeAngelo, Larry Grenier and Christine Uchida © Tom Rawe

Those of us who love Twyla Tharp's early works were jazzed to hear that she will expand As Time Goes By (1973) for The Royal Ballet this fall.

ATGB, original cast with Richard Colton (left), Pamela Nearhoof (right), photo courtesy DM Archives

This was a beautiful, dreamy, swirly ballet that was her first totally classical piece. Her Deuce Coupe a few months earlier was a hit that mingled the Joffrey dancers with her own dancers, performed to songs by the Beach Boys. It integrated modern and ballet, streetwise and classical, and took New York City by storm. Naturally Robert Joffrey asked her to make a second ballet ASAP.


For music, she chose excerpts of Haydn's "Farewell" Symphony. Her plans for The Royal Ballet include using the entire symphony.

Beatriz Rodriguez in center, @ Tom Rawe

We asked William Whitener, one of the original dancers in As Time Goes By, to comment. A member of the Joffrey Ballet since 1969, he had danced in Deuce Coupe as well. He found his Tharp experiences so challenging, so enticing, that he joined her company a few years later and danced with her from 1978-88. As artistic director of Kansas City Ballet, he staged ATGB for that company in 2005. (It's also been done by Paris Opera Ballet and Boston Ballet II, but it has not been one of the go-to Tharp ballets like In the Upper Room or Nine Sinatra Songs.)

Here is what Whitener says about ATGB:

"There were high expectations and excitement when As Time Goes By was created. It followed in the footsteps of Deuce Coupe, which had revolutionized the dance world. Twyla worked closely with Haydn's score during the creative process. As dancers, we dove deeply into the choreography, which has complex combinations and phrases of movement that are rooted in ballet vocabulary. The leg and footwork are highly articulated at all tempos. The port de bras integrates formal classical ballet technique with a natural flow of movement and force. We shifted directions with split-second timing in tightly woven patterns and broad sweeps of movement. As the ballet concluded, the cast quietly watched from the wings as a lone male dancer gently unspools gorgeous adagio movement. Audiences responded audibly to the rigor, humor and tenderness in As Time Goes By. My friend and colleague, Tommy Tune, likened the work to a flock of birds in flight."

William Whitener at left, with Christine Uchida and Donn Edwards, © Tom Rawe

The expanded ATGB, titled The Illustrated Farewell, comes to the Royal Opera House in London November 6–17. It shares a program with Arthur Pita's premiere The Wind and Hofesh Shechter's Untouchable (2015).

I'm already dreaming of a quick trip across the pond that week.

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Before too long, dancers and choreographers will get to create on the luxurious 170-acre property in rural Connecticut that is currently home to legendary visual artist Jasper Johns.

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Neumeier's costume rendering for Orphée et Eurydice. Photo courtesy Lyrica Opera of Chicago.

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How did you come to be involved with this collaboration?

It was initiated by the director of the Lyric Opera, Anthony Freud, but I had already been in contact with Ashley Wheater about a separate project with the Joffrey Ballet. The two things came together—and this was really interesting to me because Chicago was important at the start of my career. I was born in Milwaukee, but most of my training was in or near Chicago.

You've previously created version of Orpheus for Hamburg Ballet. What about this particular production caught your interest?

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