Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

October 17, 2011

The Harris Theater
Chicago, IL

October 13–16, 2011

Performance reviewed: Oct. 13

By Laura Molzahn

Expect the unexpected from Twyla Tharp. By multiplying the standard tools of repetition and variation in the deceptively frothy SCARLATTI, she exposes the paradoxical truth these tools represent: Nothing changes. Everything changes. This is a mature, sunny, yet shaded piece for 12 that goes beyond the works it resembles: The Fugue (1970), with its rigorous formalism, and Baker’s Dozen (1979), with its scuffed but blissful vision of community. 

Commissioned by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Tharp’s first new piece for a company since 2008 was one of three works on a mixed bill that definitely made the upbeat and unpretentious look good. 

Baroque music—eight Domenico Scarlatti sonatas, recorded by pianist Nikolai Demidenko—provides all the potential for change and repetition Tharp could want, as well as a link to our own era. The blazing speed and proliferating detail of most of these sonatas not only drive the piece’s rapid entrances, exits, and flurries of steps, they also hint at our fast-paced culture, which pulls our attention this way and that. (So do Norma Kamali’s busy costumes, loaded with plaids, stripes, and leopard’s spots.) Scarlatti’s occasional melancholy underscores distraction’s opposite: repose and reflection.



Always brusquely efficient, Tharp makes each of her eight sections count in the trajectory toward community and its prerequisite, individuation. The music is the engine. Because most of the sonatas are single movements in binary form (AABB), SCARLATTI enables dozens of repetitions and changes—opportunities for Tharp to tease out individuals from the crowd. A yearning, entwined trio foregrounds Kellie Epperheimer and newcomers Garrett Anderson and David Schultz, a Pan-like figure with flying blond hair. Meredith Dincolo is elegant even in a flippant solo. Jacqueline Burnett defines grounded when the music turns more measured.


Like the sonatas, SCARLATTI has a binary—but more complex—structure: It can be broken into four pairs as well as in half. With the somber fifth sonata, it becomes tender and pensive. To Scarlatti’s falling notes, three couples repeatedly dip and turn in what becomes a déjà vu–inducing moment—eternal, ephemeral. Paired with this mournful, moving episode is the galumphing, pumping sixth section, which builds to a larger-than-life “ending.” Not so fast. One of the two remaining sections is the comic coda, whose pedestrian choreography takes us into the decidedly everyday—and makes us very happy to be there.

By comparison, Nacho Duato’s 2000 octet Arcangelo is solemn, slow-moving, otherworldly, and very old-Europe. A gorgeous but heavy scenic design—elegant silver burial mounds and shimmering dark-gold wall hangings—sets off all the dramatic poses and a show-stopping finale. No false endings for this rather self-important piece.

Like SCARLATTI, Johan Inger’s Walking Mad—a 2001 work created for Nederlands Dans Theatre and set on HSDC in 2008—has a rousing fake finish. Manic, comic, nightmarish, Walking Mad invigorates Ravel’s Bolero to a degree I wouldn’t have thought possible: It becomes the soundtrack for a dreamlike series of sexually inappropriate, emotionally harrowing episodes whose protagonists shift with dizzying speed. As breezy as Tharp in SCARLATTI, Inger revels in his own paradox: slumberland’s twin poles of terror and humor. 


Photos: David Schultz, Garrett Anderson, and Meredith Dincolo in Tharp’s
SCARLATTI; the company in SCARLATTI. By Todd Rosenberg Photography, courtesy HSDC.