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Great music, great dance

Getting inside Twyla Tharp’s Deuce Coupe
By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  June 28, 2006

EDITOR’S NOTE: Phoenix dance critic Marcia B. Siegel’s Howling Near Heaven: Twyla Tharp and the Reinvention of Modern Dance is now out from St. Martin’s Press. In the following excerpt, Marcia describes the incubation of Deuce Coupe.

NO JIVE: Eliot Feld’s ballet disappeared quickly, but Deuce Coupe became a landmark.
Deuce Coupe was probably the first ballet accompanied by pop records. The Joffrey’s previous scores had included modern composers (Paul Creston, Lou Harrison, David Diamond), contemporary symphonic works with a jazz influence (Morton Gould), third-stream jazz (Kenyon Hopkins, Teo Macero), and the made-to-order rock of Astarte and Trinity. All of these had acceptably artistic dimensions. It was exactly the familiarity of the Beach Boys, their not being art, that was such an asset to Deuce Coupe. In his remarkable book about rock ’n’ roll, Mystery Train, the critic Greil Marcus notes the lack of condescension in certain American pop artists, who have “hoped, no matter how secretly, that their work would lift America to heaven, or drive a stake through its heart.” Marcus was launching a discussion about Randy Newman and the Beach Boys, but he might well have been describing Tharp.

Deuce Coupe became a phenomenal hit, but it had a stressful incubation, right up to its premiere at Chicago’s Auditorium Theater on 8 February 1973. From the start of her discussions with Robert Joffrey, Tharp stipulated that her own company would dance in the work. This would be another first, for even in the legendary 1959 two-company encounter between Martha Graham and George Balanchine, Episodes, the modern dancers appeared in Graham’s dance, the ballet dancers in Balanchine’s with a token crossover dance in each piece (Sallie Wilson in Graham’s dance and Paul Taylor in Balanchine’s). Deuce Coupe was to be a fully integrated production, and this caused anxiety on both sides.

Tharp’s dancers were in awe of the Joffreys’ technical abilities. She broached the idea of the project to them before she took it on. [Isabel] Garcia-Lorca says: “I was not a strong technical dancer, which of course I knew better than anyone else. And being with these ballet dancers was a little daunting. A little scary.” [Kenneth] Rinker felt intimidated too, even though Tharp had already steered him into taking ballet class. He says: “I’m not a ballet dancer and never was and never wanted to be, but I tried to do it like I was.” The prospect of being seen in the City Center Joffrey context was irresistible to the Tharp dancers, though, and Tharp worked out most of the movement on them in her usual way before Joffrey rehearsals began.

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Related: Converging streams, Mastering the masterpieces, Terpsichore’s delight, More more >
  Topics: Dance , Entertainment, The Beach Boys, Sallie Wilson,  More more >
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