Frank Sinatra. Twyla Tharp. Two legendary names in their respective fields of artistry. The first is heralded as one of the music industry’s greatest singers. The other, a leader amongst modern choreographers, wowing audiences with her work across many genres. Dancer Matthew Dibble has been interpreting both of these visionaries’ works in the stage musical Come Fly Away since it first started in 2009 at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre before moving to Broadway’s Marquis Theatre last year. Dibble, along with the rest of the dance company, is now ready to take a trip across North America as Come Fly Away launches its first national tour.
“It’s a little bit like coming home,” Dibble said to me before his morning workout and afternoon technical rehearsal of the musical. Having worked on Come Fly Away for two years, Dibble has come to understand the show as being a unique type of production, with a cast dancing to some of Sinatra’s most recognizable tunes, each with an intricate style envisioned by Tharp. “As a dancer, you are always looking for inspiration,” Dibble said, adding, “When the history books are written, Twyla is right up there.”
That weighty compliment comes from a dancer who has been working with Tharp for nearly 15 years. The two first met after Dibble had started his own dance company in Japan, K-Ballet, following his tenure in London’s Royal Ballet. “She asked if I could come and audition for a show she was creating called Movin’ Out,” he said.
While Tharp ultimately decided not to cast Dibble in the Broadway production of the Billy Joel dance musical, she invited him to join her own dance company — he ended up joining Movin’ Out once it went on tour. “You have to earn your badge, like when you go to an office,” he said. “You have to start somewhere and work your way up.”
The start of a dancing relationship between Tharp and Dibble was formed, and about two-and-a-half years ago, she began talking about Come Fly Away with him, although he can’t be certain if she planned on him taking part in the show. Of course, he ended up landing the role of Chanos in the Sinatra tribute, a role featuring what many refer to as the “drunk dance,” a scene depicting some wobbly moves.
“My character is quite diverse,” Dibble said. “He goes from heartbreak to blind drunk then happily being with someone. That’s the wonderful thing about working with Twyla. You come in one day and learn something, then she just flips things around. I get to dance different emotions throughout the night.”
Dibble hails from England, where he grew up and studied dance in London. He started at the Royal Ballet School when he was merely 11 years old, later getting accepted into the Royal Ballet where he spent 5 years. And it’s those British roots that lend an extra sense of understanding to his love of dancing to Sinatra. “Coming from England, we have such a huge respect for people like Sinatra and Elvis,” he admitted. “The soul in music and Sinatra-style lounge singing all started in America. Would there have been an Amy Winehouse if there wasn’t a Sinatra character,” he wondered aloud.
It’s that universal love of Sinatra, combined with the groundbreaking dance work by Tharp that has Dibble convinced that cities across North America will find something to appreciate about Come Fly Away. “It’s amazing to see the different reactions of people around the country,” he said. “Dance audiences will love what Twyla has created, and music audiences will get a kick out of hearing Sinatra from a fantastic live band.”
From the title number “Come Fly Away” to such popular hits as “New York, New York,” “My Way,” “Fly Me to the Moon” and “Witchcraft,” Come Fly Away has something for every Sinatra fan.
As for Dibble, he’s keeping his eye on Tharp, hoping that once the Come Fly Away national tour concludes, he might have a chance to work with her again. “She’s like a living legend,” he said. “There’s not many like her left now. We are running out of that kind of stock of great choreographers.”
Photo by Joan Marcus