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Nine Sinatra Songs
She was originally kicking around a title that would have included the word 'roses'. In search of romance, Twyla Tharp was yearning for that lost moment when a man and a woman could freely express their love for one another on the dance floor.
At the time, songs sung by Frank Sinatra were a surprising, even radical, choice. This was the early 1980s, and the disco generation had moved out of one another's arms. They had lost both the urge and the ability to relate, and had willingly shattered personal connections for a hedonistic self-absorbed exhibitionism. But, when it came to Nine Sinatra Songs, as it was finally titled, Tharp wanted glamour. She wanted a sexual frisson balanced by a sexual equality. Tharp craved partnerships, and loved quoting the Ginger Rogers wisecrack about how she had to do everything that Fred Astaire did, 'but backwards and in high heels'.
An immediate and huge audience favourite, Nine Sinatra Songs became one of Tharp's iconic hits along with Push Comes to Shove and In the Upper Room. I remember being surprised by the screaming, shouting, bravoing euphoria that surged through Sadler's Wells the first time Tharp's company danced Nine Sinatra Songs in the UK, just before Christmas in 1983. At that point I was an American in Paris and found this overwhelming response to be totally at odds with what I'd been warned to expect from typically reserved British audiences.
Gloriously lush and unabashedly romantic, Tharp's choreography to these Sinatra anthems is a swirling kaleidoscope of moods. The dancers sail through these duets; yet, for all their stunning surface beauty, there's a savvy bittersweet tinge underlying Nine Sinatra Songs. It's as if each of these love songs is poised on the brink. Even though they make the most of each romantic moment, Tharp knows too much about the volatile nature of love to be taken in by any of the songs' June/moon/spoon rhymes or their promises of forever. However, most importantly, she does want all of us to be able to dream. 'I chose songs only in arrangements from the 1950s,' Tharp said, 'when my parents were still together, when all parents were together, the last time we assumed as a culture that of course men and women lived together and loved for a lifetime.'
So, she presents us with seven couples, the men in tuxedos and the women in gorgeous gowns by the renowned American fashion designer Oscar de la Renta. Dancing beneath a glittering mirror ball, they offer up a kind of wish fulfilment; a knowingly smart tug at our heart strings.
Nine Sinatra Songs has been staged for Birmingham Royal Ballet by Keith Roberts, who created the first of the Sinatra duets, 'Softly As I Leave You', with Shelley Washington. It's magical, luminescent; filled with sweeping lifts that arc across the song with a soaring, silken ease. This is 'Strictly Come Dancing' transformed into great, elegant art.
Click here for details of all 200708 season performances of this ballet currently on sale.
This work also appears on BRB's current tour of the South West. Click here to find out more.
PA to the Chief Executive
'I'm looking forward to Nine Sinatra Songs – I saw it on the split Company tour in 2006 and it was really great, full of energy and just completely different from everything else I'd seen BRB do. Popular music that everyone knows and really good dancing - I really like it and I'll be bringing my husband to see it when we perform.'
Click on the names for individual biographies
Songs sung by Frank Sinatra
Choreography Twyla Tharp
Scenic design originally by Santo Loquasto
Original costume design Oscar de la Renta
Lighting originally by Jennifer Tipton
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