Dancing With Twyla Tharp (Well, Sort Of!)

by Jeff Klayman

Tharp2Remember Andy Warhol’s oft-quoted dictum—“In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”? Well, how about ELEVEN SECONDS! Yes, that’s it. About two gulps of your Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino, a text reply while jogging, a flu shot, if you’re lucky the amount of time surfing channels to NOT find Donald Trump on the tube.

I’ll backtrack a bit. I am not a dancer. Not professionally but a life-long balletomane, student of ballet, jazz, tap, modern, Flamenco; from New York to Cannes, Madrid, Seville, there I was with my back-pack containing shoes, tights, dance belt, castanets and a fervent, unquenchable belief that, age be damned, dancing was for everyone.

So-here I am at the ripe age of 69 (observe, NOT ripe “OLD” age, boys and girls!). I’m ordering my ticket on-line for Twyla Tharp’s 50th Anniversary Tour on Goldstar for a performance at the Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts in Beverly Hills and, voila!! My “golden chance” to recapture one phase of my youth. The page on the Annenberg website advertises Ms. Tharp’s, “The One Hundreds” to be performed on an outdoor stage and they need 100 people to sign up for the event.

I am there in a heartbeat! FYI, this was my return engagement with Tharp & Company, having signed out “to the field” when I was a social worker in New York, to participate in a master class of Tharp’s Eight Jelly Rolls at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, back “in the day.” Leave it at that!

Briefly, the work consists of 100 eleven-second movement phrases inspired when Twyla watched Sandy Koufax pitch a baseball game. Having a mathematical sense of how dance/movement works in true time, Ms. Tharp somehow calculated that 11 seconds was the total time Mr. Koufax took from warm-up to releasing the ball. Think of that next time you dip into the popcorn while watching your favorite team play. That’s genius for you.

The event was to occupy the entire day. All the “dancers” (ahem!) arrived eager and clutching water bottles, some in dance-wear, most in casual street clothes. All I kept thinking driving down Sunset to the Annenberg was “Please God, don’t let me be the oldest!”

No worries. After a brief introduction in the lobby of the complex thanking us all for being there, Twyla asked, “Who is the youngest and who is the oldest?” I looked nervously about, ready to shoot up my hand, no matter what. No worries. A young boy of nine elicited a big smile from the famously taciturn and seemingly humorless choreographer. And then, wonder or wonders, two participants tied for the other spectrum end—82!! God bless ‘em!

We then lined up in front of one of the six company members and marched en masse to a park across from the theater. At least there was shade. My “instructor,” Nicholas Coppula, asked who wanted to go first. “Me, me”–more out of nerves and to get it over with. I was given “Airplane” as my 11 second bit. A series of propeller-like circles with my arms ending in a raised arm in a quasi-salute to the sun, torso twisted and looking skyward. Easy-peasy but difficult to execute well.

An hour of this and we had a two hour lunch break—in Beverly Hills, thank you very much. Much to my relief, I found a Subway and dug in, rehearsing in my mind endlessly my seemingly simple routine.

Back at the Annenberg, we gathered around for a run-through on the outdoor stage facing Camden Drive. At precisely 6 p.m., it BEGAN! Two female Tharp dancers took the stage, and side by side, flawlessly performed all 100 dance phrases. Apart from the physical stamina required, quite a mental feat as well. BRAVA!

Then, the rest of the company came on and each dancer performed 20 phrases and then, at long last, us amateurs. Rushing the stage, we took our positions and after the four-clap cue, did our stuff. Boom, bang, bingo! ‘Twas over. Applause, cheers, many confused stares from passersby on Santa Monica Blvd. I did it!

I can check that off my “bucket list.” A lovely thanks from Twyla and I ran to the bar to redeem my drink voucher for an, alas, very warm beer. But, never mind. I floated on air to my car and drove home thinking, “Jeff, you and Baryshnikov.” Good company, to be sure!!

Twyla Tharp Company performs at the Wallis Annenberg Center in Beverly Hills, October 1 to Sunday, October 4. Click here for tickets which are selling out rapidly. 

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