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Twyla Tharp's 'The One Hundreds': Why volunteers are the stars of this dance show

Renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp has organized a free performance of "The One Hundreds," a piece from her early experimental years in New York City and notable for the fact that it features dancing by 100 volunteers. The show consists of 100 11-second movement sequences, each performed by a different volunteer dancer in an electric burst of energy at the end.

The performance Tuesday at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills will kick off Tharp's 50th-anniversary tour. The event, which is open to the public, is to be followed by a traditional paid-ticket program that, due to popular demand, was recently extended a day, with performances now set for Oct. 1-4.

Jenn Logan, a dancer with Nancy Evans Dance Theatre in Pasadena, and Molly Astrove, a student at Ithaca College in New York who is interning for a semester in Los Angeles, will be among the volunteers for "The One Hundreds." They shared technical details about how the performance is being pulled off: 

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Volunteer dancers are instructed to arrive at noon on the day of the show. They are told to wear comfortable shoes and clothes and to bring plenty of water. Orientation will be at 12:30 p.m., and the first rehearsal with Tharp and her dancers will be at 1 p.m. After a break, another rehearsal is scheduled for 4:45 p.m. The performance starts at 6 p.m.

"So you've got about four and a half hours to wrap your brain around what's going on," Logan said. "The community aspect of it is really unique, and it isn't too often that you get the chance to work with a living legend."

The show lasts for about 20 minutes before the 100 volunteers' grand finale. Two of Tharp's dancers execute the 100-movement sequences in unison, before five dancers each perform 20 of the phrases. The 100 volunteers close out the event, giving the audience all 100 phrases in 11 seconds.

The movements borrow from dance genres including pop, tap dancing and jazz, and some even lift inspiration from sports such as basketball and boxing. Although the show's denouement may sound chaotic, it's actually quite ordered. Tharp made a name for herself based on her calculated way of thinking about dance and her meticulousness in presentation.

"Tharp has a mind IBM would be proud to have manufactured," Marcia B. Siegel wrote in The Times in 1970, the same year that "The One Hundreds" premiered. "Her methods of devising movement, patterned after Merce Cunningham's chance operations, are complex and didactic."

Astrove, who has been dancing her whole life, said, "It has to be so precise in order for it to work."

Astrove said that "The One Hundreds" is a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Twyla has always been a big dance idol of mine."

Follow me on Twitter @jessicagelt

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