Double Euphoria: Twyla and Obama

January 21, 2009

What a great way to end the first day of Obama’s presidency: watching Tharp’s In the Upper Room! Although it was made in 1987, it catches the euphoria, the anything-is-possible post-inauguration mood of yesterday. It’s one of those rare pieces that exhilarates from beginning to end, and Miami City Ballet danced it beautifully last night at City Center. The Philip Glass music brings the dancing along like a river, now rushing, now pooling, now lapping at its banks. It keeps flowing; it doesn’t stop to hold a pose; it doesn’t stop to congratulate itself.


Sort of like Obama’s inauguration speech, which also went along at a brisk pace. He didn’t dwell on the key words or swell the phrases in the manner of great oratory. But he packed it with political/cultural/poetic nuggets. It made me want to slow it down, hear and see and read the re-runs. Likewise, with In the Upper Room, one can barely absorb the outpouring of gorgeous movement the first time and only really savor it on the second or third viewing.


Another way that they are similar is this: Twyla puts every kind of movement into Upper Room and links them with a profound connectedness. It doesn’t look like the kitchen sink. It looks like a unified tapestry woven together of disparate yarns. There’s the running backward, the side-to-side vaudeville step, the hands clasped together above like a boxing champ, the ballet girl with luscious developpés, the penchée that lowers to a drag. There’s the soft shoe, the shimmy, and the gentle head wagging. All these steps from different idioms come together, riding the current of Glass’ music.


Obama, whose extended family is from Kansas, Hawaii, Indonesia, Kenya, Toronto, and Chicago, would understand this kind of patchwork (a word he used in his speech). Twyla’s vision of harmony is right for the age of Obama. His idea of a “team of rivals” was anticipated on the dance stage long ago by Tharp’s Deuce Coupe (1973) in which she pitted modern dance and pop against ballet, and showed how they could work together to create harmony. In the Upper Room brings everything postmodern to an exalted level, just as I think Obama brings to a culmination all our contemporary ideas of diversity and freedom.