The Adrenaline Rush of Twyla Tharp's Upper Room Is Coming Back to ABT
Stephanie Williams, Cory Stearns, Catherine Hurlin and Duncan Lyle rehearsing In the Upper Room. PC Kelsey Grills
Waves of sheer dance inventiveness come rolling toward you. Dancers in sneakers, pointe shoes or ballet slippers mingle: it looks like a free-for-all but is carefully plotted out. Philip Glass' music lets the dancers ride his gorgeous momentum.
This is In the Upper Room, the celestial yet kinetically charged ballet made by Twyla Tharp in 1986. It hasn't been done by American Ballet Theatre since 2012 and now it's coming back with full force.
What the dancers do is almost superhuman: They run backwards, they skip, they undulate, they help each other fly in the most unlikely ways. The intertwined shapes are bold, the interactions are witty, and the energy is non-stop.
The rehearsal that we observed, run by former Tharp star Shelley Washington, was the second cast of the stompers: Catherine Hurlin, Stephanie Williams, Alexandra Basmagy, Brittany DeGrofft, Calvin Royal III, Cory Stearns and Duncan Lyle danced fabulously. It was thrilling to see this masterpiece up close.
My best running buddy was on my left. To my right, a total stranger with whom I'd suddenly become competitive. As the 15-person group headed into a two-minute push, the instructor got hyped, and the remix blasting Rihanna's "We Found Love" transitioned to "Smooth Criminal."