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In The Upper Room

In The Upper Room



Twyla Tharp


Philip Glass
39 minutes

Tharp thinks of the two women who initiate In The Upper Room in terms of ceramic, Chinese temple guard dogs. From the “cells” of their side-by-side moves, with stretching, kicking and swinging legs, the dramatic, nearly religious and hypnotic on-rushing work pours forth. An inky yet celestially lighted void frames the advancing, receding, exploding and imploding activities of this many-layered work. The choreographer characterizes the running-shoe-wearing three couples as “stompers” and two pointe-shoe-wearing women as a “bomb squad.” All work according to their nicknames, stomping and “bombing” the space with their finesse, energy, and force. The cast of participants builds gradually and, once established, evolves partly through an altering of costumes and through elaborating their dancing and their connection to the other dancers. Tharp has described her movements here as “fierce, driving, and relentless,” aiming to make some furiously fast unison moves “burn the retina.”

The dancers play with and feed on Philip Glass’s music’s driving pulse, much of their locomotion can be seen as jogging, sometimes nonchalantly backwards. The “bomb squad” amplifies into the “ballet cadre” and their red costuming stands out with special fire in the black velvet surround. The music’s unwinding character climaxes in a finale that encapsulates the entire ballet up to that point, with each recapitulation colored and/or twisted this way or that from its original presentation. With the first-time appearance of the entire cast, the piece winds down, in the process re-dramatizing the magical void created as a scenic component by Tipton’s innovative lighting plot. The dancers variously disappear into the dense, rich blackness that stands like a shadowy infinity behind the more immediate space showered by shafts of warm light. Two “stomper” men bolt backward into the void by way of throwing forward a sharp punch as they “disappear.” For final punctuation the “china dogs” cue the ringing down of the curtain by pulling down their fists, as if sharply closing shut a window blind.

In the Upper Room World Premiere on August 28, 1986, Premiered by Twyla Tharp Dance. Choreography by Twyla Tharp ©Twyla Tharp.

Miami City Ballet premiere: January 12, 2007, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Miami, FL

The Company Premiere of In The Upper Room was sponsored in part by Dr. Margaret & Mike Eidson, The State of Florida and Funding Arts Network.

Ballet Credits

Choreography by Twyla Tharp

Music by Philip Glass, In the Upper Room

Staged by Shelley Washington and Assisted by Kaitlyn Gilliland

Original Costume Design by Norma Kamali

Original Lighting Design by Jennifer Tipton