Mozart inspired engaging dance from Tharp

Twyla Tharp has set a number of her most memorable dances to pop music, from ``Nine Sinatra Songs'' to ``Deuce Coup,'' her Beach Boys classic. She has also collaborated a good deal with such rock-inspired composers as Glenn Branca and David van Tieghem. These pop and rock explorations have resulted in some tremendously exciting work. But the latest Tharp programs at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) are a happy reminder of her exuberant rapport with classical music, as well. In fact, her meditations on Mozart - in ``Ballare,'' a gorgeous new dance - strike me as more involving, and more engaging, than her latest version of the thumping ``Catherine Wheel.''

Set to a spiky Mozart sonata for two pianos, ``Ballare'' has a fascination with exhilarating, high-speed courtship that recalls much of Paul Taylor's work - an impression that's reinforced by Jennifer Tipton's delicate lighting and especially her flowerlike design on the backdrop. The dance features seven members of Tharp's agile troupe, the women often on pointe, everyone dressed all in white. At the beginning, six of them are in two groups, one man and two women each. At the end they regroup into three couples, with the extra woman sailing in at the last minute, as if to salute the togetherness of the others.

The dance as a whole has an elegant sonata structure, with a piquant andante between a breezy allegro and a breathless presto finale. But regardless of the musical tempo at a given point, the choreography's energy never lets up, asserting itself during even the most exquisitely refined moments of the poetic middle section. The dancers were fully in tune with the work's atmosphere during its first BAM performance, lending their virtuosity to Tharp's artful mixture of romantic feeling and classical underpinnings.

The mood was vastly different when Tharp unveiled ``The Catherine Wheel III,'' the newest incarnation of her David Byrne hit. Once an evening-length dance with a complicated story and lots of symbolic references - its video version looked like the ultimate MTV offering - it's now a 40-minute minidrama about a quarreling family and a large pineapple that everyone seems quite worked up about.

Byrne's music still seems more heated than inspired, and much of the choreography follows that cue - except during the bravura first act, ``His Wife Refused,'' and the supercharged ``Five Golden Sections,'' which still pack a wallop. Santo Loquasto's sets hit the eye with impressive strength, supported by Ms. Tipton's eloquent lighting. But the new economy of ``The Catherine Wheel'' isn't matched by a heightened impact.

On the same programs with ``The Catherine Wheel III'' and ``Ballare'' are revivals of the tricky ``Fugue,'' the incandescent ``Nine Sinatra Songs,'' and the ingenious ``As Time Goes By,'' in which Tharp works wonders to a Haydn score. A third program includes jazz- and minimalism-inspired works. Twyla Tharp Dance remains at BAM through March 1.

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