Twyla Tharp has brought a seasonlong residency at Pacific Northwest Ballet to a close with a panoramic new piece of choreography that demonstrates why she is one of the foremost dance artists of the age.
“Waiting at the Station,” which premiered Friday night and continues through Oct. 6, opens on a dingy, urban scene of wood and corrugated metal. Dancers dressed in faded ’40s-era garb sashay onstage to the piano-driven jazz of Allen Toussaint, who plays at stage right.
Slowly, from the sweep of rhythm and motion, characters and relationships emerge: A man in a fedora is pursued on all sides — first by a younger man (his son, according to the program), who tries to copy the man’s moves, and also by a trio of glamorous, gold-clad Fates.
That’s the outline, but the dance is oh-so-much more than a synopsis suggests. Santo Loquasto’s WWII-vintage sets and costumes, paired with Toussaint’s New Orleans-infused sounds, transport the audience to a dark-and-smoky time gone by. And Tharp’s boiling pot of motion — ballet, ballroom and boogie-woogie all simmering together — tests the limits of comprehension.
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Standing out in the jumping, jiving crowd are dancers Carrie Imler, Kiyon Gaines, Laura Tisserand and Jonathan Porretta, who play a pair of couples warily eyeing each other. Tisserand wields her long legs like weapons; Imler is all shruggy, hip-swaying insouciance.
James Moore, the man in the fedora, also cuts an indelible figure as a man who literally attempts to turn back the hands of time (on the face of a large clock), but finally appears to welcome the chance to shuffle off this mortal coil.
As death makes its entrance in “Waiting at the Station,” an ecstatic jazz funeral breaks out, complete with elaborate, colorful Mardi Gras masks.
Tharp has explored themes of mortality before, though perhaps never so joyously. Here, she presents dance as a profound and affirmative metaphor for life: marking time, never at rest and driven by impulses at once incomprehensible and sublime.
“Waiting for the Station” is the centerpiece of an evening bookended by two other works by the same choreographer.
“Brief Fling,” set to a Michel Colombier/Percy Grainger score that spans folk, electronic and martial music, arrays four clans of dancers in different Scottish plaids — green, blue, red and white.
The presentation is somewhat marred by a recorded score, which sounds muzzy in McCaw Hall, but the reward is a spectacularly fast cyclone of a quartet danced by Leta Biasucci, Ezra Thomson and, again, the fabulously athletic Porretta and Gaines.
The program closes with the crowd-pleasing “Nine Sinatra Songs” — a little demonstration of how nearly perfect 3-minute popular songs (and dances) can be, when they’re in the hands of a master.
Lynn Jacobson: 206-464-2714 or firstname.lastname@example.org