Willie “The Lion” Smith, one of the great jazz and stride pianists, had a unique way of playing and composing that is matched in Twyla Tharp’s Baker’s Dozen, a cream puff of a work first seen in 1979. This is fun Tharp, full of dips and doodling, slouching and sliding contrasting with high-flying lifts, a bit of pointe work. The dozen dancers constantly poach partners from each other, sometimes waltzing together but more often good-naturedly throwing and tugging each other around. Tharp has a highly individual dance vocabulary that veers from Broadway swing style to classical ballet. Yet it always keeps up with Smith’s stylistically innovative counterpoint and harmony.
Michele Wiles, Craig Salstein, Misty Copeland, Sarawanee Tanatanit and Blaine Hoven were outstanding. But everyone, whether in a group lining up, splitting up, strolling forward then reversing themselves, or surprising each other in momentary pas de deux and trios that rarely ended as expected, acquitted themselves well. Santo Loquasto’s casual all-white costumes look contemporary and if Barbara Bilach couldn’t quite match the keyboard pyrotechnics of “The Lion”, as transcribed by Dick Hyman, she was not far off. A revival to cherish.
Not so Tharp’s Sinatra Suite with Luciana Paris and Marcelo Gomes, a pas de deux to some of Sinatra’s greatest hits. Once a wry, even cynical tribute to Sinatra’s descriptive ditties, such as “My Way” and “That’s Life”, it’s been reduced from a suite for several couples to a push-me-pull-you twosome. As performed here, it failed to ignite.
Finland’s best-known choreographer Jorma Elo has been influenced by Mats Ek (of the Cullberg Ballet), Jiri Killian and Mikko Nissenen, a fellow Finn now heading the Boston Ballet. Elo’s latest piece, C to C, is hardly C to shining C. It’s set to Philip Glass’s anaemic-sounding tribute to the artist Chuck Close and is played on stage by Bruce Levingston.
Close’s red backdrop for the second half of the ballet is the brightest thing in it. The ballet starts with figures in stiff cloaks and skirts, standing inanimately. Cloaks removed, the action begins as Maria Riccetto and Sascha Radetsky, Jacquelyn Reyes and Craig Salstein, Stella Abrera and Blaine Hoven launch into Elo’s disjointed choreography, which is particularly jerky for the arms and upper body. There are some less restrictive, conventionally classical moves, yet Radetsky’s important solo seemed to tether him to the ground. Overall, Elo’s choreography felt more like work in progress than a finished product.