Blended forms 

Twyla Tharp brings two new works to the Rialto

Twyla Tharp is going to hell. Figuratively speaking, that is.

In "Surfer at the River Styx," one of the new dances Tharp brings to Atlanta this weekend, the celebrated choreographer tackles the complicated transition from the living world into the afterlife.

Tharp, 60, has been dealing with some complicated transitions of her own in the past couple of years. After more than a decade as one of the most famous and sought-after freelance choreographers in modern dance and ballet, Tharp decided in 2000 to re-establish her own company.

"It's always a rock and a hard place," Tharp says. "Freelancing becomes all about starting over from scratch every time. At a certain point you go, 'Wait a minute, this piece would be a lot stronger if I was working with the same group of dancers I just finished working with.'"

With the new incarnation of Twyla Tharp Dance, the choreographer now has a stable cast of six pedigreed dancers, the perfect palette with which to express her signature blend of various influences. That diversity takes front and center with the pieces in the troupe's current tour. "Mozart's Clarinet Quintet, K. 581," named for its score, pays homage to classical styles, with the dancers donning Harlequin-like silk suits for a breezy, capricious jaunt.

"Surfer at the River Styx," as you might expect from the name, treads darker waters, a journey into the underworld by way of Bermuda shorts. To evoke its theme of battling death, Tharp taps movement styles ranging from martial arts to break-dancing.

"It definitely is a struggle," says Tharp. "It's not an easy piece."

Twyla Tharp Dance performs March 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Rialto Center for the Performing Arts, 80 Forsyth St. $30-$50. 404-651-4727 or www.rialtocenter.org.

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