Excitement was in the air because Twyla Tharp made a new work, the excitement magnified because the new work is in collaboration with Carolina Chocolate Drops (CCD) a traditional African-American string band at BAM (April 10). Separate the two and we’re golden, but this pairing, albeit a possible agent for bringing disparate audiences together, was not necessarily a gem. The new work is Cornbread Duet danced by Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild principles in New York City Ballet. Pairing traditional African-American songs with classic European lines is not the issue—they just didn’t gel. Lead singer Rhiannon Giddens opines, “This music that we play is dance music,” and in truth every song that these fabulous musicians (Giddens, Hubby Jenkins, Malcolm Parson and Towan Corbett) deliver is coupled with a good deal of shaking their own body parts, and playing percussion instruments with abandon. At the top, after a few songs, seated and close to the audience, CCD paused as stagehands made room for the dancers; they were moved to a far corner near the back wall to be “musical accompaniment for the dance,” said Giddens. She was grateful to be asked by Tharp and the duo performed to five songs. The prison-stripe costumes (by Norma Kamali), a unitard for Peck, and a two-piece for Fairchild did not compliment the work or the dancers, but the dancing was lovely. Peck and Fairchild were wonderful together in their Tharp-esqe adagio sequences, flirtatious and sometimes comedic gesticulations that matched CCD’s lyrics, plus they got to show off their skill in this ballet cum modern pas de deux—solid pointe work and fouette' turns. Emily Oleson returned after the intermission in a quick soft shoe jig to “Briggs Corn Shuckin Jig.” Giddens chides “…roll back the carpet and move the furniture out of the way…[dance]…have a frolic.” One can’t blame Tharp for wanting to get in on the act, this is good dance music.
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I am a performer, historian, consultant and dance writer. I am a faculty member at Hunter College, Sarah Lawrence College (Guest), Empire State College's online program Center for Distance Learning. I am also a former faculty member of The Ailey School and the Alvin Ailey/Fordham University dance major program, Kean University and The Joffrey Ballet School's Jazz and Contemporary Trainee Program. I write on dance for The Amsterdam News, Dance Magazine and various publications. Click below to read more about me at my home page - "About Me."