And last part (aren't you grateful?):
There were several out-of-town dance critics in the audience during the first weekend, and Waiting at the Station was what they came to see. Tharp is a big draw, and since she doesn’t seem to want her own ensemble, people have to go to where she’s working if they want a look at what she’s up to.
There are a million things going on in this new work, but the message I came away with after several viewings is how fully integrated her style is now with classical dancing. In Brief Fling, she was still working in a corner of the dance world but for several years, she has been the lingua franca. The dancers in Station worked their tails off, and would probably all agree it’s some of the most challenging stuff they’ve done, but they don’t present it as a specialty. The multiple initiations, the shifting weight, the complex structural patterning, the easy flow that sits on top of the maniacal phrasing – it’s just how she works, so it’s how they’re dancing.
I don’t really know if Tharp has been consciously working toward a narrative dance style all this time, or if it’s just developed organically, but at several points in Waiting I thought of other movement story tellers like deMille or Robbins or even Massine. It’s not a story ballet in the traditional sense, but all the work she’s put into jukebox musicals in the last few years is reflected here. It doesn’t seem to be a total success in that department – several people who didn’t read the program or hadn’t heard anything about the work before they saw it have mentioned they were confused at key places in the narrative. It helps if you’ve heard a little bit about the story before the curtain goes up. It helps if you’ve read the program. It helps if you know something about the 1930s, about Greek mythology, and about New Orleans jazz funerals. But even without those clues it’s clear there are lovers who squabble and make up, mentors who try to pass on their skills, friends who enjoy each others’ company even while they’re waiting for something to happen.
Tharp is frequently the smartest person in the room (and usually knows it) – this was really obvious in her lecture-demonstration the Wednesday before opening night. She ran the dancers through excerpts from Brief Fling and Waiting at the Station, pointing out where we should look and what we should think like the best tour guide ever. If she ever decides to leave choreography she could easily run a late-night chat show – she owned the room. It didn’t make any difference if she was the one asking the questions or the one being asked – she was in control of the high wire act, and in many ways that sense of risk and reward shows up in the dances as well.
Waiting revolves around an older man, danced by James Moore, who seems to be aware that his time is almost up. He wants to finish business – pass on his skills to his son and sort out a pair of fractious couples. He’s pursued by a trio of Fates, and he’s got to elude them until he’s finished up his tasks. All of this happens at a train station, so he’s surrounded by a group of people keeping themselves occupied while they wait. In the best tradition of musical theater, he doesn’t have much luck with any of his goals until he actually seems to die, and comes back from the dead to tidy up. When he’s finished with the work, the train arrives, and he can hop on board.
Laid out like that, it’s a fairly odd scenario for a dance work, but because dancing lies at the heart of all the relationships, it functions pretty well. Moore dances with his son (Price Suddarth), dances with his friends at the station – he even dances with (well, around, actually) the Fates as they pursue him. And the rest of the community shows us who they are through their movement as well. Some of the dramatic moments are almost too literal – Moore turns the hands of a clock back as he attempts to buy himself more time, he hands his son a fedora like his own when he feels that lessons have been learned. Carrie Imler and Laura (Gilbreath) Tisserand are peeved when their partners (Kiyon Gaines and Jonathan Porretta) flirt with their opposite numbers – luckily they stop before they get to an actual catfight but it’s clear they’re on their way. All of these and more lead up to the train at the end, a variation of the deus ex machina, except that in this case the conflicts are resolved before the machine arrives to take our hero away.
Everyone dances up a storm in this. As the father, Moore gets plenty of work, including a couple of lovely solos that show off his turning skills. Apparently when Tharp made Afternoon Ball he understudied the role that Charlie Hodges danced. It was a tour de force part, and Tharp was so impressed with Moore’s drive that she cast him in the central role here. It’s tough to show a father and son in the context of a ballet company where everyone is between the ages of 18 and whatever, but even without the filial context, the teacher/student relationship was clear enough. Imler and Tisserand, along with Gaines and Porretta, made sense out of their squabbling dynamic – the women both disdainful of each other, and irritated at their wandering partners until Moore’s character makes peace between them in a brief moment where he whispers in their ears.
(All weekend people were asking what it was that he “said” to them at that moment – Peter Boal hinted that he knew but wouldn’t say. In one of his very articulate pre-show lectures, Doug Fullington gave what I thought was the best reply – “he whispers what they need to hear.”)
Chelsea Adomaitis, Elle Macy and Sarah Pasch were the three Fates -- in gold spangled romper suits they made me think of the Rockettes. Tharp apparently referred to them as her “golden girls” during rehearsals, and was very impressed with their strength and power. During the Wednesday lecture she compared them to Rose Marie Wright, who was the first dancer she hired back in the 1960s – a huge compliment.
The ensemble gets a lot to do here, both in extended dance sequences and specific stage business. Tharp made a great deal of the material on Andrew Bartee and Jahna Frantziskonis when she was here last year (during the run up to In the Upper Room) and they get several featured moments as a kind of quid pro quo. They’re matched on the opposite side with Angelica Generosa and Steven Loch.
Allen Toussaint’s score included some of his best-know work (I’m still humming along with Mother-in-Law). Tharp has done some of her most innovative work to early American jazz music – it sits at the heart of her personal style, and it was a treat to see her chatting with him during the Wednesday lecture. I’m sure that Allen Dameron did a great job with the piano part during the second weekend, but I’m truly grateful I got to hear Toussaint perform.
For the dance geeks in the audience, there were a couple moments that really popped. When the Fates finally caught up with Moore, they circled around him and waltzed him upstage right, which reminded me of Giselle second act, where the Wilis capture Hilarion. And then a bit later, they pick him up and carry him away upstage as he’s standing up, facing the audience, in a kind of reverse version of the final sequence in Serenade.
The program is full of amazing dancing, and Moore really does have a powerhouse role in Waiting, but overall I think Porretta and Gaines made the biggest impression on me. They were in all three works, and both of them danced more fluently and more powerfully than I ever remember seeing them – they were both phenomenal.