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Arts & Entertainment Preview - May 2000

Dance and Theater
B Y   N A N C Y   D A L V A   &   J O H N   I S T E L

Stepping to the Seventh

Tharp's Symphonic Dancers
   Tharp's symphonic dancers

Twyla Tharp's The Beethoven Seventh begins with Tom Gold stepping out in a classic invocation to the dance, but one laced with Tharpian idiosyncrasy. He is inviting you to witness an interesting encounter -- call it "When Twyla Met Ludwig." Tharp's dance, her first for the New York City Ballet, had four performances during the winter season. This spring you'll have to act fast to see it. After two performances in late April, it appears on May 4 and 7 (New York State Theater; 212-870-5570). Never one to avoid either controversy or difficulty, Tharp has taken on a composer many people (including the late George Balanchine, who still heads the NYCB, at least putatively) have thought inimical to concert dancing. Further, she has chosen a symphony both familiar and beloved. Tharp follows the structure of Beethoven's Seventh but not the dynamics. What you get is a 21st-century response to 19th-century romanticism; the dance is heroic in attitude, casting its grand themes (there are three: the Apollonian, the tragic, and the Dionysian) in three intense duets, with a chorus coming and going in kaleidoscopic recombination. As ever, Tharp has a keen and fabulous eye: The dancers she casts in the "in-between" and "meanwhile" segments of the work -- what another choreographer would call the background -- are pulled into the foreground one by one, and they amaze you. Jennifer Tipton, the great lighting designer, has created, out of nothing more than pure light, a positively Shakespearean environment, adding complexity to an already fiendish work. --N.D.

Lords of the Dance

High praise for Judith Jamison
High praise for Judith Jamison   

As the artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater during the past ten years, Judith Jamison has built a company in her own image. She is the star of a company of stars. The Ailey dancers have always been fabulous-looking -- the most beautiful women, the most chiseled men. Jamison has kept all that, and added more. These days the dancers are also technicians, albeit liberated and unabashed. These days the company is multiracial, albeit in an African-American repertory and spirit. If the company's talent sometimes exceeds the work presented, the dancers never slack off or distance themselves. Like all great performers, this troupe invests itself so wholeheartedly in everything it does that you become invested too. You care about the Ailey dancers, and you feel that they care about you, their audience. Grounded in their own technique, they take you on the most joyous dance ride around. Today, as ever, their most powerful dance is their signature, Alvin Ailey's masterwork called "Revelations." It is on the bill when they return this month to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, a wonderful complex that is worth a visit whether you must travel over the river from New York or through the suburban woods to get there. (May 12-14; for information and tickets call 888-466-5722.) --N.D.

A Monumental Work

A Monumental Work
Can a monument be made into a play with music? Audiences at The Cleveland Play House, in Ohio, will find out this month when Touch the Names: Letters to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial receives its world premiere (May 9-June 11). Twenty years ago, on Memorial Day, 400 people gathered in Washington, D.C., to consecrate land for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. In 1982 Maya Lin's winning design took shape in Constitution Gardens: two black granite walls arranged in a V, each wing sloping up to a height of ten feet and engraved chronologically with the names of those veterans who died in Vietnam. The memorial is the most visited monument in Washington. Why? Partly because its open-book shape lets visitors read their own narratives of grief into its glassy surface. It's also interactive: Visitors often make rubbings or leave mini-memorials to names, of which there are more than 58,000. It has been reported that one veteran's relative left a note: "Damn you brother! Why didn't you come home?" Another poured a Bud into the ground before the names of dead friends, like libations in a Greek tragedy. It's a national black-box theater of mourning. The director Randal Myler, who has a growing track record of salutes to indelibly American subjects, has created a script solely from the letters left at the Wall. Previously Myler directed two shows at the Play House: It Ain't Nothing But the Blues, which he co-wrote, was nominated for three 1999 Tony Awards; and Love, Janis, about Janis Joplin, was a hit last year. His musical collaborator, Chic Street Man, starred in Myler's Hank Williams biographical revue. The composer now brings to this project his eclectic bluesy folk, which has graced everything from Northern Exposure, on television, to Zora Neale Hurston's Spunk, off-Broadway. The combined talents of Myler and Chic Street Man may make them the first theater artists to squeeze tears from a stone. --J.I.

Nancy Dalva's essays appear in the magazine 2wice.

John Istel is the editor-in-chief of Stagebill.

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Photo Credits -- The Beethoven Seventh: Paul Kolnik. Alvin Ailey: Josef Aster. Touch the Names: The Cleveland Play House.
Copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.

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