This company’s Tudor paradigm is Larissa Ponomarenko: ramrod straight in the second song, her affect both rising (de rigueur in Tudor) and rooted, a child who’s lost her mother as well as a mother who’s lost her child. The other soloists ranged from stoic to shocked. Reyneris Reyes was a stricken but solicitous spouse to Ponomarenko; in the second cast, Rie Ichikawa and Lorin Mathis seemed to be enacting a solemn funeral rite. Heather Myers gave a stylized American (as in Martha Graham or Agnes de Mille) interpretation of #1, Karine Seneca a more naturalistic European one. James Whiteside crumpled inside the community circle in #3; Erica Cornejo zipped about like a frightened rabbit in #4; Yury Yanowsky smoldered like a bereaved Rhett Butler in #5. In the same roles, Gabor Kapin, Kathleen Breen Combes (perhaps essaying a profounder state of disbelief), and Jared Redick were more contained. Philip Lima’s is a deep baritone, and the words didn’t always emerge, but he phrases with quiet conviction; by Sunday I had put away my Dietrich-Fischer Dieskau recording. The chamber-lucid orchestra made the most of Mahler’s delectable oboe and cor anglais writing; the D-major resolution of “In diesem Wetter” was a study in heartbreak.
In the Upper Room, which Tharp made in 1986, really is a Big Bang, a dance in which, as Arlene Croce wrote, “aerobics are made cosmic.” Tharp has said that the title came from the Mahalia Jackson gospel hymn; you can imagine the place where Jesus’s disciples gathered at Pentecost, and the smoky spotlights emanating from left, right, and (especially) above as the descending dove of the Holy Spirit, and the red dancewear that gradually peeps out from underneath Norma Kamali’s black-and-white prison-stripe pajamas as the liturgical color of Pentecost. Tharp had something else in mind: Jackson’s vocal modulating higher and higher, treasures in the attic, the “Upper Room” as a Dance Heaven sporting every kind of movement known to humankind (jogging, shadowboxing, skating, martial arts, yoga, and breakdancing, for starters) plus a few that Tharp invented. She divides her 12 dancers (like the 12 apostles?) into two groups, “Stompers” and “Ballet” people; two of the three Ballet girls are designated as the “Bomb Squad,” and there’s a 13th dancer (Judas?) called the “Crossover Girl” who appears first as a Stomper and then later on the Ballet side and winds up dancing with both groups. The nine numbers are set to a commissioned Philip Glass score. The Stompers start it off in I before forming a backdrop for the Ballet group in II, and then they’re on their own in III. The Bomb Squad counterpoint the rest of the Ballet group in IV, the Stompers seem to be spoofing Jirí Kylián’s Symphony in D in V, two Ballet boys partner two Stomper girls in VI, and the Stomper boys have an Iron John outing in VII. In VIII the Crossover Girl, the first dancer to appear in all-red, shimmies on like a femme fatale out of a ’40s noir, and the Ballet boys all ogle her, but Tharp reverses the dynamic as, one by one, the other Ballet girls enter and the boys have their choice. It all ends in a dizzying perpetual motion of alarums and excursions, like the wham-bam apotheosis of a fireworks display.