What did Twyla Tharp do after completing a massive ballet to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony? She went back into the studio three days later and started a new dance to music by another Romantic titan. Her latest work for American Ballet Theatre, Variations on a Theme by Haydn, to be performed twice May 10 and on July 1 at the Metropolitan Opera House, uses a deluxe cast of 30 to animate her sophisticated interpretation of Brahms’s familiar score.
The ballet, a last-minute addition to ABT’s spring season, got limited rehearsal time given the demands of preparing Kevin McKenzie’s new Swan Lake. Unfazed, Tharp began building the densely structured work with three dedicated dancers. One was 20-year-old up-and-comer Marcelo Gomes (a native of Brazil and a performer in her 1998 Known by Heart), on whom she developed much of the principal dancers’ material. “I got to work with her privately. It’s definitely made me mature as a dancer,” he says happily. “With Twyla’s movement, once you get to be comfortable onstage, it’s such a wonderful feeling.”
Tharp rewarded Gomes with the ballet’s only major solo, during the third of its eight variations, showcasing what she calls his “broad range, from classical to more vernacular.” As one of four crucial, ever present demisoloists, he is kept busy throughout, and never leaves the stage during the expansive finale. To work on Variations, reports the young dancer, “to know everything, to learn everybody’s movement, just made me stronger.”