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Behind the Scenes at Twyla Tharp's New Ballet

Photo: Getty Images

When we were invited to a private viewing of Twyla Tharp's new ballet for American Ballet Theatre, we weren't sure how to feel. We love Twyla, and her ballets — insouciant yet elegant — are an ABT specialty. But the last Twyla work this town saw was her oh-so-unfortunate Dylan musical, The Times They Are A-Changin', and we were still smarting from the visual overload of trampolining people-as-circus-animals. Plus, costume designer Norma Kamali was running 40 minutes late, and when Twyla told the first cast to skedaddle because "nothing we love like repeating, is there?" we're not gonna lie — we were a little scared of the tiny, bespectacled choreographer.

But we're happy to announce that Twyla is back to fine fighting form with this ballet. Here's what we know about the as-yet-untitled piece, which premieres as part of ABT's spring season on June 3.

It's a roughly three-section work starring most of the company's major stars. It starts with typically Tharpian solos — all looping combinations, slack arms, carefree leaps, and playfully combative duets — for dynamos Ethan Stiefel (back from an injury, and looking fierce) and Herman Cornejo. Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg — two dancers whose work is often too pristine — get a charming comic duet. And the score by Danny Elfman, often thumping and wildly percussive, reminds us a great deal of the pulse Philip Glass's music gave to one of Twyla's greatest works, In the Upper Room.

Kamali's costumes are in the embryonic stage (she was viewing the ballet for the first time), but we did see Twyla introduce her to Stiefel and Cornejo (she identified them by their character names, Rogue and Rabbit, and instructed Cornejo to remove his hoodie in Kamali's presence — the better to see his abs). And she pulled over star Paloma Herrera to compliment her "incredible presence, very inspiring for me." A vibrant score, a return to signature Twyla, and costumes befitting a gorgeous Argentine ballerina? We finally know how to feel: excited. —Rebecca Milzoff