“OK, Gorgeousnesses” was how Twyla addressed her four dancers at our photo shoot. That single, made-up word spoke volumes about her gratitude and admiration for them. And what amazing dancers! Karine Plantadit is a fantastic mover with charisma to burn. Holley Farmer oozes sexuality in her every step. Rika Okamoto radiates a sprightly spirit, and Laura Mead is the picture of sweetness and innocence. And technique? They all have miles of it.
Midway through the shoot, I said to Tharp, “We’ve decided that your dancers are superwomen.” To which she replied, “You know, we’ve always been that way.” Do Iâ€ˆever!â€ˆI remember how mighty Sara Rudner, Rose Marie Wright, and Twyla herself were when they danced The One Hundreds in 1970. They seemed to roll out every kind of movement in the world in 11-second phrases, in unison and in silence. They were strong, gutsy, and independent—and they weren’t defined by men.
In Tharp’s new Come Fly Away, to open at the Marquis Theatre on Broadway this month, the four lead women are also strong and gutsy, but more romantically inclined. They act out—dance out—their attractions and struggles with men. And the audience has changed. Back in 1970 only the die-hards who loved “pure movement” were thrilled; now Tharp’s work fills large houses. The audiences in Atlanta cheered, and the show broke box office records at the Alliance Theatre.
Whether avant-garde or crowd-pleasing, Tharp is a giant in our field. A lioness. During the 2008–09 season alone, she made four new works for various ballet companies. And yet she was able to respond to three plucky modern dancers—Rika, Karine, and a third dancer—who came to her with a seemingly modest plea: Make something for us to dance.
Although Karine and Rika go way back with Twyla, Laura graduated Juilliard only three years ago. And Holley—well, she got the surprise gig of the year. She could have been depressed about being dropped from the Cunningham company. Instead she was pulled into the Tharp orbit, thus getting to dance an entirely different way. (Read “Lost Your Job? That’s Great!” to get the full story.)
Tharp’s approach is to tune in to each dancer, and together they create a character. When you read Susan Reiter’s “Their Way,” you’ll see that each of these four women is as grateful to Tharp as she is to them. Come Fly Away is a gift all around.
Photo by Matthew Karas