Nan Melville for The New York Times
Juilliard students in an excerpt from “Deuce Coupe” at the Joyce.


The eagerly anticipated “College Showcase: Works by Tharp,” presented Saturday afternoon at the Joyce Theater, provided a fascinating look into 1970s choreography by Twyla Tharp and her style and compositional methods. The afternoon also suggested a few things about programming and the high level of university dance training today, seen here in students from Barnard, Hunter, Marymount Manhattan and Sarah Lawrence Colleges, as well as the Juilliard School's student professionals. The urge to include all four of the colleges was understandable, but having two segments of “The Fugue” was overkill.

The former Tharp dancer Jennifer Way and the Sarah Lawrence contingent offered an exhaustive primer on the components of “The Fugue,” whose knotty, complex movement themes and their connections would seem to require rocket-science intelligence. The Sarah Lawrence dancers negotiated the choreography's conundrums with impressive fluidity. Three fine Marymount dancers followed, too late, to slip assuredly through the dance itself.

Excerpts from “Country Dances” came next, performed with new-penny brightness and edge by four Hunter dancers.

The program's opening and closing performances benefited, perhaps, from their distance from the forced march through “The Fugue.” “Eight Jelly Rolls,” danced by Barnard students, did feel a little long-winded. But the piece began the showcase by pouring Tharp dance out across the stage in all its slippery, comical beauty. And the dancers' play with weight and lightness and their individuality suggested that for all its demands, Ms. Tharp's choreography leaves room for engaging subtleties of interpretation.

The dance writer Don McDonagh once observed that Ms. Tharp's style might have developed quite differently if she had not performed early in Paul Taylor's dark, lumbering “Three Epitaphs.” The slow-drag quality of the music and movement in “Eight Jelly Rolls” has something in common with the Taylor piece, as does Ms. Tharp's canny way of changing dancers midcourse. Her vocabulary, all her own, would seem to be a terrific way to develop fine articulation, timing and nuance in young performers.

It was a pity that “Deuce Coupe,” which closed the afternoon with vivid, luminous dancing by the Juilliard students, could not have been included in its entirety. But the excerpts did reaffirm that although stylistic effects can look like shticks in Ms. Tharp's dance, there is nothing quite like the textured richness and ease of her work at its best.

Published in The New York Times on May 14, 2007.