Variations on a Theme


So, after working on this material during the past several weeks, I find that the lingering question is – so what exactly is this that we’re doing?! In rehearsals, I just had the sense that Jenny and Katie knew something that we didn’t know, even when I thought I was “getting it.” For example, when Rose Marie Wright ran rehearsal, Amymarie and I were going over the end of Sara and Rose’s duet when they play the trombone sort of bent over towards the ground. And Rose’s telling us, “Okay, so you need to improvise.” And Amymarie and I reply, “Oh! So we can play the trombone up here?” And Rose replied (perhaps without any sense that this was our feeble attempt at improvisation), “Well, no. You have to play it down here.” Insert confused glances.

And more generally speaking, I’m really interested in what it is that makes Twyla’s work what it is. What is the essence of this movement? Is it that anything can become “dance”? (Polishing a table, sticking your little finger out, flipping a coin, etc…) Is it the way you hold your weight? (I second Amymarie’s observation on what she calls held and real weight.) Is it the structure and manipulations? Or is the essence of this movement so intimately tied to the people who helped create it that with each degree of removal, it loses some of its Tharpness (Tharpateity)?

I wonder about the role of the original individual dancers to the movement. To talk about creation gives the impression of something being static—like: check that off the list. It’s been “created.” But from what I understand, that’s never how this piece operated to being with. It was in a constant state of creation, to the extent that there was something of a foundation (an essence, if you will), and then the accoutrements were layered on top of the essential movement.

And maybe this gets at a question about dance—is it intrinsic or extrinsic? Or both? And how? It seems like it’s intrinsic in the sense that it can’t exist without the individual dancer, but extrinsic in the sense that it is something you can pass on. But not perfectly. And not unless you have bodies. Which is crazy. I mean, I guess in some cases you have dance notation—but dance notation isn’t dance.

That makes me head spin. Here are some other random thoughts about the performance:

1. The SHOES! The shoes made a huge difference. I didn’t use suede-soled shoes until about two weeks before the performance, and baby: I’m never goin’ back. Katie and Jenny kept telling us that the shoes would make a big difference. I don’t know why that didn’t really sink in. Pointe shoes make a big difference. Tap shoes make a big difference. So why not suede-soled shoes? I hope at some point I get the chance to work on Tharp repertory again, and I’ll start at the beginning with the shoes. Dancing with them hugely changed how I experienced a relationship with the floor (more massage-y and fluid, less rubbery and sticky), and I think it would make a difference to get that right at the start of a piece.

2. Performing Sarah’s solo in darkness was so awesome! I think there were 3 factors at work: I couldn’t see the people watching us, I wasn’t aware of a mirror (because there wasn’t one), and the darkness made it feel sort swanky. This time doing it I tried to conjure up in my mind what it’s like dancing outside at dusk in the French Quarter, in the humidity. I wonder what it would be like to dance that with a live band. An alive band. Yesss. I also LOVE the way Sara and Katie and Jenny talked about that solo as a duet, and working with the music and being attentive to it. In a lot of ways, Eight Jelly Rolls is something like embodied jazz—the give and take, the responsiveness and attentiveness to what’s going on around you, but still being grounded in a theme. I love it. Makes it distinctively American, too.

This whole experience was such a gift!!! MERCI BEAUCOUP to all who made it happen. Virtual love, comin’ atcha.