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Twyla Tharp Does Dylan...Again

Date: Sep 19, 2017


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Dancer Matthew Dibble discusses working on the choreographer's latest premiere


Matthew Dibble is a technical powerhouse. As one of Twyla Tharp's longtime go-to dancers he has to be. Not only is he able to handle her challenging choreography, he also imbues the movements with palpable emotion. Over the years, he's tackled many of her abstract ballets and even danced in one of her Broadway shows. Now, for Tharp's three-week run at the Joyce, he's appearing in the premiere of Dylan Love Songs, a quintet performed to Bob Dylan tunes.

Tharp previously used the legendary folk star's catalog for the Broadway musical The Times They Are A-Changin', which didn't even last two months in 2006. And while Dylan Love Songs is a completely new piece, Dibble sees it as a great example of the way Tharp works, building upon what's come before and remaining dedicated to her ideas -- and her dancers. "After the original show closed, [fellow Tharp dancer] Charlie Hodges and I were able to work in the studio, dancing around, playing with the piece," he recalls. "It's always upsetting when something doesn't work out, and it served as a sort of therapy for everyone involved. Twyla understands long-term investments, and we all feel invested too because of that."

Dibble first worked with Tharp in 1995 when she came to London's Royal Ballet to premiere Mr. Worldly Wise. "She picked me out of the corps de ballet," he recalls. "I was initially like, 'Who is this lady from America?' I had heard of the 'American style,' and Twyla has that: Her attack, her energy in the movement -- I had never seen it before. And, more importantly, she talked to dancers as equals, unlike what I had mostly experienced. She chooses who to work with based on personality and energy versus just looking at dancers as bodies. That was so new for me, and it has remained in her work to this day."


Despite how much Dibble enjoyed that first collaboration, it took years before he became part of Tharp's crew. After leaving The Royal Ballet, he and some colleagues started "a boy band of sorts" with K-Ballet in Japan for a few years. Then, "out of the blue, Twyla called, asking what I was doing," he recalls. "She told me she had a job for me. When I hesitated, she simply said, 'Don't be stupid!' That's Twyla."

Since many of Tharp's regular company members were busy on Broadway in her Billy Joel jukebox musical Movin' Out at that time, Dibble served as a replacement in the dance troupe. "It felt like coming home to do her work," he says about making that life-changing move to the U.S. "Quite simply, it felt like actually dancing for the first time. What's so wonderful about her choreography is that it varies: You can do something super casual and then go straight into a hard technical section."

Because of that constant variation, Dibble loves the experience of creating with Tharp. "The work is alive," he says. "She allows it to depend on the dancers she's working with. She's always growing, and she's very much hands-on, constantly tweaking her work."

Of course developing new work like Dylan Love Songs uses different muscles than recreating vintage pieces. Dibble does both during this Joyce run, which also includes a pair of Tharp classics from the '70s: The Fugue and The Raggedy Dances. "The old rep is done exactly as it always was," he says. "We even had some of the original dancers set Raggedy! They gave us the real essence and clarity, as well as what was going on in Twyla's life -- growing up in the '60s and using a new way of moving at that time."

Unsurprisingly, that era was formative for the 76-year-old Tharp, and Dibble says working on Dylan Love Songs has given him a glimpse into her psyche and past. "She grew up to this music," he says. "She has a deep connection to it, and we can all find inroads to it. It's easy to do with Dylan. His words are a gift to a dancer to have as the base of a piece."


Lauren Kay regularly contributes to TDF Stages..

Top image: Matthew Dibble and Riko Okamoto in Dylan Love Songs. Photos by Nan Melville.

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