Choreography: Twyla Tharp
Music: Frank Sinatra
Following the workings of her Sinatra-inspired duo, Once More Frank (1976) and in the wake of her investigation of the methods of turn-of-the-century exhibition/ballroom dancing for the movie, Ragtime (1980), Tharp created her Nine Sinatra Songs (1982). Each one of the songs she chose has its own musical and dance/theater character. Tharp’s piece is a portrait in which seven couples exemplify the most correct as well as the most extreme aspects of ballroom behavior and dancing. The subject is social and exhibition dancing set out in vignettes of acute observation and no less acute choreography.
The basic unit of each dancing couple includes Tharp’s reinforcement of the traditional ballroom unit, which is upscaled by the active participation of the female dancer. The opener is based on the theme of infatuation, the next Tharp has characterized as a “bastardized Tango.” Another was not based on any particular dance form, but showed a “close” couple in late night, knowing rapport. After a re-gathering of all the “characters” involved, a new dancing couple lends tart, comic relief. Unhurried and unshowy glamour bathes the next dance, while the next, couldn’t be showier. This duo plays it straight, fast, front and center, in the manner of actual ballroom competition entrants. The capstone couple is one engrossed in a battle of wits and maneuvers. They play it hot, hard and furious, each giving as hard as he or she gets. The final swell is a repeat of “My Way,” recorded later than the first recapitulation’s “My Way” accompaniment. The dance has become a wildly popular Tharp classic, presenting its view of 1950s social dancing through the nostalgic and yet sharpened eyes of the 1980s. Oscar de la Renta’s dresses and tuxes flash with a similar double edge of present and previous ages.
The voice on the recording is that of Frank Sinatra (“Ol’ Blue Eyes”) who was a master craftsman and ranked as one of the most influential singers in this country’s history. In more than 200 albums, his music led the evolution from Big Band to vocal American music.
World Premiere: October 14, 1982, Twyla Tharp Dance
Kansas City Ballet Premiere: May 6, 2004, Lyric Theatre, Kansas City, Missouri