SARATOGA SPRINGS — Dancer Matthew Dibble has worked with many choreographers, including Christopher Wheeldon and Benjamin Millepied. But none, he says, compares to Twyla Tharp.
“She’s very refreshing to work with because she never rests on her laurels,” said Dibble who has performed with Tharp since 2002. “She’s not in the same category as other choreographers. She has redefined American modern dance. Her influence is huge.”
Tharp has definitely made a distinctive mark in dance worldwide.
For one thing, the Tony and Emmy award winner is one of the most versatile choreographers around — making a name for herself first with her 50-year-old modern dance company, Twyla Tharp Dance, as well as in the ballet world by creating works for American Ballet Theater, New York City Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet.
She is also known for her work on Broadway with the hit “Movin’ Out,” in films such as “Hair” and “Ragtime” and on TV in PBS specials on dance.
Wit and athleticism
Yet no matter what stage she is working on, all of her works combine casual cool with wit and athleticism.
Now, Tharp fans will have a something new to savor. She will premiere her next work, set to Beethoven Op. 130, tonight at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The dance, which will be accompanied by two others, “Country Dances” and “Brahms Paganini,” will mark her company’s golden anniversary.
“It’s a great work,” said Dibble who is in one of the lead couples in the Beethoven dance. “The music is really strong. There are many beautiful counterpoints that lead the movement. It invokes a classical feel, but it still has that Tharp stamp.”
Twyla Tharp Dance
WHEN: 8 p.m. tonight
WHERE: Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Routes 9 and 50, Saratoga Springs
HOW MUCH: $30, $15 under 12
MORE INFO: 518-584- 9330 or www.spac.org
He describes that stamp as dance that continually surprises its audience. But Tharp’s capacity also surprises her dancers as she has an inherent talent to choose the right dancer for the right part. More surprising perhaps is this: She never asks her dancers to do something that she herself cannot do.
This is a rare trait in a choreographer — especially one who is 73 years old. “She is exceptionally strong and in great shape,” said Dibble. “She still works out. She expects the maximum from you because she gives so much. Every day, she motivates you.”
Dibble first met Tharp in 1997 when he was a dancer with the Royal Ballet. While creating a new work for the company, they had an instant connection. Dibble then went off to dance with K Ballet in Japan. Upon returning to Europe, he got a call from Tharp.
“She said, ‘Why are you messing about. Why don’t you just come to New York.’ I never wanted to go to New York. She said she would give me a week to think about it. After a week, I thought, ‘Let’s just go for it.’ ” He did, auditioning for “Movin’ Out.”
While he didn’t capture the lead, because Tharp said he was out of shape, she invited him to join her company. He has since danced the lead role in touring production of the Billy Joel musical. He also gained her confidence to stage her dances for companies throughout the world.
But as with Tharp, it is the process of staging a new work that he finds intriguing. He particularly enjoyed preparing for the SPAC program as the new Beethoven dance was created as part of a six-week residency at Hunter Mountain in the Catskills.
Offered as the first Pathways to Dance grant, which includes support from 10 venues in eight counties, the residency gave Tharp and dancers a chance to polish the work in time for its SPAC world premiere.
“It’s been great,” said Dibble of the residency. “It’s very quiet here and we have had a chance to concentrate. And, even though we arrived during mud season, it’s absolutely beautiful.” He expects the extended time will translate into another Tharp treasure.