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Tharp's "Baker's Dozen"

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Here's a backgrounder and review from the 2007 ABT production. It's by Susan Reiter in DanceViewTimes and makes very worth-while reading for those planning to see this ballet.


ABT’s unofficial survey of the 1970s continued with the premiere of its latest Twyla Tharp acquisition, “Baker’s Dozen.” This brilliantly organized, entrancingly musical ensemble work, was the final, glorious creation, of Tharp’s breakthrough decade. [ ... ]

Tharp’s eagerness to work with economy and precision after the bloated wastefulness she’d experienced during the filming of “Hair” is a driving impetus behind “Baker’s Dozen,” as was her longstanding connection with the music – irresistible piano pieces by Willie “The Lion” Smith that glide and swing with sophistication, sass and romance, evoking a world both decorous and a bit risqué – since she had spent weeks improvising to them during her pregnancy at the start of the 1970s. Another major factor that helped make “Baker’s Dozen” such an enduring masterpiece was her fortuitous collection of dancers who had arrived and begun to settle in by 1979 – a group of highly individual virtuosos ready for anything Tharp threw at them, and capable of performing it with flair, wit and daring. [ ... ]

Not only is “Baker’s Dozen” a sublimely perfect work, it is so concentrated and tightly constructed – not a wasted step or moment – that it always leaves one wanting more.

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For me, there's something less about much of Tharp's work than there is about the work of the other choreographer represented on this program that that other choreographer summed up well when he said something like (trust me, please I can't find it): Twyla makes them look like her, I make them look like them.

That said, there's still a lot of fun to be had - especially if you get a center seat! As Reiter implies, and as Croce wrote in The New Yorker for 5th March, 1979, "much of the action takes place at wingside."

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that other choreographer summed up well when he said something like (trust me, please I can't find it): Twyla makes them look like her, I make them look like them.

Which is true only when it works. Otherwise, they look like ballet dancers trying to look like her.

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Here's some of what Croce had to say:

With six women and six men, Tharp has made an extended essay in partnering, and the duets are full of astonishing events - not just acrobatically astonishing, like the lifts that the specialty dance teams at the Savoy used to do, but poetically astonishing, with a wild sexual kind of comedy and perverse spirit... In "Relaxin'," a girl falls head first out of the wings into a boy's arms. He has to throw her back twice and then dodge as another girl runs at him full tilt...

Willie the Lion Smith straddled the eras of ragtime and swing... [F]our compositions [are] used in the ballet, which date from the thirties... [santo] Loquasto's off-white costumes, with their drape shape, suggest Harlem sharpies of the thirties and early forties. Under their sarongs the women wear velvet trousers that look like leg warmers, and the choreography is nutty enough to take it. There's a flushed, excited self-awareness in this piece...

I'm looking forward to it, mindful of the danger Helene points out, but it's the other two ballets - not to mention the subfreezing weather here in Chicago - that's bringing me down to the Broward CPA next weekend.

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BTW...among my three enquires, this one has generated an obviously lower amount of responses. I could be wrong, but do I perceive a diminished interest/knowledge on this work compared to the rest of the MCB program...?

I'm not sure which Tharp ballets you've seen, but they can be quite uneven to say the least--and Helene is quite right in saying that if it's badly danced they look like ballet dancers trying...

I'm hoping you weren't subjected to "Nightspot", the worst Tharp ballet I've ever almost walked out on, but I suspect you were? Anything that made Rolando Sarabia look paunchy and out of shape, not to mention boring, speaks for itself in terms of DRECKITUDE. I was with a dear friend who knows even more Tharp works than I, and he wanted to leave after ten minutes.

In SOME cases--with GREAT dancers--Tharp makes them look like them (Sara Rudner, being the Greatest Dancer Ever To Work For Tharp, as the shining example; Shelley Washington and William Whitener as well) , and if I remember Baker's Dozen correctly it's at least somewhat that way. Just remember, nothing 'compares' to Balanchine (as a confirmed Balanchinomane, I understand) very well (rather like nothing 'comparing' very well to Bach) and Sonnambula is sublime even for Mr. B--wait till you see the end!!!

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I have very fond feelings for Baker's Dozen, and think it's one of her works most easily adapted to a ballet-trained cast. It's very beautiful, but also very elusive -- lots of appearing and disappearing going on. I'm glad that the work is being staged various places since Tharp isn't really maintaining an active repertory currently.

One thing that she has here in common with Balanchine is a bone-deep interest in music and its relationship to movement. As with much Balanchine, if you don't like the music, you probably won't like the dance, but I've always thought both of them were extremely charming.

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