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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: 4 / 5)

Dancer and Choreographer

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  Twyla Tharp

Was there someone who gave you a big break in your career?

Twyla Tharp Interview Photo
Twyla Tharp: Yes. I would say that for the first five years I pretty much seized things. But Bob Joffrey saw a piece of mine called The Bix Pieces at the Delacorte around 1971. From that piece, he had the breadth of vision to see that what I was doing could be translated to what his dancers understood. I already knew this, because I had been studying classical ballet for a long time. But a lot of people insisted on a wall between modern dance and ballet, that the two disciplines were totally separate, and if you did one, you couldn't do the other. I'm beginning to think that walls are very unhealthy things. Bob saw that what I did had a very strong balletic base to it, and he asked me to make a piece for his company. That took a real leap of faith on his part. This is what is ordinarily called a break, because it certainly is what introduced me into the commercial world. From there I made another piece for the Joffrey called, As Time Goes By. After that I did Push Comes to Shove, for American Ballet Theater with Baryshnikov. Milos Forman saw that piece and asked me if I would do the movie of Hair. From Hair I was able to begin working in pictures and to extend my career into television. Now I am very fortunate because I am in a position where I need to expand the definition of movement much beyond the parameters of what can be accomplished in dancing, per se.

There's an ephemeral nature to dance, if it's not recorded on film or video. Does that ever bother you?

Twyla Tharp: Nobody likes to see that which they've invested in disappear from the face of the earth before they've even died. This is not cool. I think that in the case of a piece like, As Time Goes By, which was done at a very particular moment in time, in the early '70s, when this bridge building was going on between modern dance and ballet with a bit of hindsight and a bit of historical perspective because my career is now over a quarter of a century. And as the year 2000 approaches, we will have completed a century of dance. We can now almost see what that looks like. We can now see what the landmarks, in fact are. For better or for worse, As Time Goes By is one of those. So when you say, am I troubled by the fact that ephemerally, it is at this point in time anyway, non visible, of course. Because it is a document of our time and a document of an art form that is very important, and it just is not going to be available to future generations. This is not cool.

Has your music training had an impact in your work?

Twyla Tharp: I not only have a very intimate connection with rhythm because of... I'm sure that children who are fortunate enough to have professional parents -- or parents who introduce them at a very young and emotional age to a calling that becomes their profession and their chosen passion, which seems like a contradiction in terms but is not -- have an advantage over all others. The fact that my mother held me before I could really walk, and I was dealing with music, embeds it in a way that is otherwise just not possible. That very, very early training, so that rhythmically I have a sense of it. Aurally I have a sense of it. It's connected to smell, it's connected to taste. It's not a dry thing. It has a great deal of living force to it.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

What is the role of instinct in your creations?

Twyla Tharp: It's the key thing. The instinct is the item that you register, you attempt to catch it and you attempt to get it as spontaneously and as quickly into a form where you can say exactly what you meant to say. The longer you struggle with it, the muddier it becomes. That's why the business of skills and techniques is so important. Because the more of those you have, the faster you can operate.

Sometimes we have to learn the rules, so that we can break them.

Twyla Tharp: Yes, but I think that there's something a litter perverse about that.

Twyla Tharp: In and of itself, breaking rules is not an art. That's simply an extension of, and a challenge of, what the traditions are. You have to create something either with the rules, or without the rules. But simply breaking the rules, which I've done my fair share of, is not all that creative.

Can you share with us some of the most exciting moments of your career?

Twyla Tharp: With each piece that I've completed I have worked to make it intact, and each of them has been an equal high. It's like children. A mother refuses to pick out one as a favorite, and I can't do any better with the dances.

Twyla Tharp Interview Photo
I'm sure that as I've made major transitions, the rewards have been different. The rewards of dancing, myself, are very different from choreographing. The rewards of working with dancers you've worked intimately with is very different from dancers that belong to a company you go into. The rewards of extending your discipline and incorporating whole new elements. For example, as I begin to try to deal with film and the element of storytelling, and putting a dramatic narrative at the spine of the action, rather than simply abstract time and space, this is a very big shift, and I'm sure the rewards will be different.

But the reward that I felt for doing a piece called The Fugue in 1970 will never be surpassed. Because I knew then what an accomplishment it was and how far I had come in order to be able to make counterpoint, which is what that represented. How to link two lines in relationship to one another, so that they were bound, and reinforced one another. You give your own accomplishments, and that's what reward is about. It's not about honors, it's not about celebrity, it's certainly not about money.

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