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If you like Twyla Tharp's story, you might also like:
Suzanne Farrell,
Harold Prince,
Trevor Nunn,
Lloyd Richards
and Julie Taymor

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Twyla Tharp in the Achievement Curriculum section:
From Dance to Drama

Related Links:
Twyla Tharp's Web Site
New York Times
American Ballet Theatre

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Twyla Tharp
Twyla Tharp
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Twyla Tharp Interview (page: 3 / 5)

Dancer and Choreographer

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  Twyla Tharp

You said that you had to excel, you didn't have a choice, and yet you are today one of the leading figures of the day in your field. Wasn't that a positive force, that pressure to perform?

Twyla Tharp: It has its up sides, it has its down sides. I think that anyone who's pushed to do the very best that they can is privileged. It's a luxury. Whether one's coming from a poor family or a wealthy family, that kind of attention is a privilege. On the other hand, the necessity to constantly turn in an excellent performance, to be absolutely redded and wedded to this dedication and this ideal means that as a child you're forced to learn to block out emotions. I think this is the case with a lot of overachievers. It's not only very painful in a personal life for many, many overachievers. It also - called "over-achievers," but I don't believe in that concept. There's achieving or not achieving. But, in any case, so-called over-achievers - pay for it personally. And, as important in the case of their work, which is where they've vested to so much of their life force, they short-circuit that as well, because they don't know how to be able to integrate the sense of so many things that are very real, and that are very tangible. It's just that we don't study things like fear. We don't study things like excitement. We don't study things like love. We don't study things like mourning. We try as people who have commitments and obligations to blockade those and go our course towards excellence, and that's a lie.

You feel you've paid a price.

Twyla Tharp Interview Photo
Twyla Tharp: I've definitely paid a price. Everything is an exchange. Once you realize that, you feel empowered because you say, "Okay, this is what it's going to cost. Do I want to do that? And you say, "No, I don't want to go quite that far again." This spring past, I was already committed to making two pieces, which I needed to do in a very short period of time. I had a major emotional shift in my life, and I was not able to take the time to address that, because I was committed. It has been very costly to me personally. I'll never be in that position again. It was too costly. In the future, I will make certain that I commit to projects so that there's enough breathing space for me to have an emotional life. If I need to have a day or two to mourn, I can afford to feel I can take that.

You once said that dancing is when you feel most alive. Is that true?

Twyla Tharp: When I'm in the studio, when I'm warm, when I'm what people call improvising, but what I call futzing because improvisation seems like such a... somehow institutionalized word. What I do is completely the opposite of institutionalized, it's the messiest thing you can imagine. That when I'm in a certain state where the cerebral powers are turned off, and the body just goes according to directive that I know not of, it's at those times that I feel a very special connection to... I feel the most right. I don't want to become too mystic about this, but things feel as though they're in the best order at that particular moment. It's a short period. It goes only, at maximum, an hour. I pay a very great price to be able to maintain that. But it is, that hour that -- I use the same phrase over and over again -- that tells me who I am. I think it's that way for anyone who does anything that is personal to them. There are moments where things come, and they don't know where they've come from. It's the business of discovery, and being able to have that freshness in your daily procedure that enrichens the life. It keeps the discipline that's necessary for any artist from becoming stale.

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Are you saying that confusion is the secret to creation?

Twyla Tharp: I think any scientist would probably tell you the same thing. As though I should speak for scientists. I think that probably the moments of discovery do come from a place that is not totally organized. Order is something that we already know about. Discoveries are in a place we don't already know about.

Twyla Tharp Interview Photo
You have to have a lot of faith in yourself to work through that confusion.

Twyla Tharp: You have to also believe there's something at the other side. And yes, you do have to have faith in yourself. You also have to think that you have the tools to accomplish it. You have to have that security, or you have to have that confidence.

Were there books that had an impact on you?

Twyla Tharp: No. I read a lot, but I don't remember anything particularly impacting me. It was just something I did to try to quench my restlessness. I have a kind of unstillness about me that has to be constantly tended to. I'm hoping that what I'm talking about -- this reintegration of life forces into the working procedure -- will make me a little less uneasy. I think that I've always had to keep the walls in place, and the only way to do that is to keep yourself constantly occupied. That doesn't necessarily mean you're doing good work all the time, you're just doing busy work a lot of the time.

When you were young, were social events part of your life?

Twyla Tharp: I worked at the drive-in. From the time I was 8 years old, until I went to college, I worked at the drive-in theater my parents owned, either selling tickets, or working in the snack bar. That's what I did weekends, evenings, whenever I wasn't practicing, or actually in the car on the way to these lessons. So there was no social life.

Do you feel that, as an adult, your career has kept you from having a personal life?

Twyla Tharp: No. I have a son. I don't mean to say that I haven't had a life, I have. It's just that I have maintained a barricade between the two, that I no longer understand. I think that has created a certain amount of pain and confusion on both sides of the line. Both in terms of the work, and in terms of my personal life.

Did you feel destined to be a leader?

Twyla Tharp: Absolutely.

Twyla Tharp: I thought I had to make an impact on history. It was quite simple. I had to become the greatest choreographer of my time. That was my mission, and that's what I set out to do. And whether or not that's been accomplished, at least I have the common sense to know we don't determine those things. Posterity deals with us however it sees fit. But I certainly gave it 20 years of my best shot.

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This page last revised on Dec 06, 2007 18:11 EST
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