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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
Profile of Twyla Tharp Biography of Twyla Tharp Interview with Twyla Tharp Twyla Tharp Photo Gallery

Twyla Tharp Interview (page: 5 / 5)

Dancer and Choreographer

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  Twyla Tharp

Did you have any idea that Deuce Coupe would be the hit that it was?

Twyla Tharp: There are ideas, and then there are ideas. The piece was not without a certain amount of calculation. That's the first piece I did for the Joffrey. I went for a season to watch the Joffrey Company and the Joffrey audience, before I made the piece. It was very distinctly tailored for both the audience and for the company. On the other hand, it is extremely arrogant and very foolish to think that you can ever outwit your audience. And all you can do is make your sincerest stab at saying, "Hey, I think you could understand what I'm trying to say if I say it this way. I think I know you well enough that this is how I need to say it for you." I don't consider that selling out. I consider that going halfway to meet a person, and I consider that to be what communications is all about. Deuce Coupe was very successful in that regard. As far as watching, I was in it. So I was too busy hopping around backstage to have any sense about what it was doing to the audience out front. I was having too much fun.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

You also elevated pop music with your Beach Boys piece.

Twyla Tharp: Again, I'm not one who divides music, dance or art into various categories. Either something works, or it doesn't. I don't mean this, but I'm going to say it anyway: I don't really think of pop art and serious art as being that far apart. That is a total lie. I think of them as being completely different, and I don't think of them as being that far apart. This is one of the things that we have to accept about art is that it's full of paradoxes and contradictions, and they're equally true, both sides.

What personal characteristics are most important for fulfillment in one's career and life?

Twyla Tharp: For me it's always taking that next step forward. I often say, the only thing I fear more than change is no change. The business of being static makes me nuts. I have to feel that each thing I've learned I can push to another point next time. I'm not very good with repetition. I would rather not work than feel that repetition is the order of the day.

I think that the challenge is always in taking with you what you understand, but pushing it to another point. I don't believe in rushing, and dropping it off and saying this is done and over with. That to me, that form of rebellion doesn't make sense to me. I've always attempted to familiarize myself with the traditions, and consider that a responsibility of the artist. I think it's a bit facile to go in as the avant-garde traditionally is expected to do and just chop off the past and say, "Okay, now we start." It seems a little wasteful to me. Let's take what we've got and let's push it somewhere and let's use it because why waste all those good lessons about how the body moves. We don't have 300 years. The classic ballet has been working that long, learning lessons of the body. Let's hurry up and get that together, so we can go on with it.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

You've worked with female dancers, as well as male dancers, like the great Baryshnikov.

Twyla Tharp: Mischa is a great dancer.

It's also, I think going to be true that the 20th century is the domain in the classical ballet of the classical male dancer in a way that it never was before. It was always about the ballerina. Part of that is because the choreographers were always men. Consequently, they shaped the roles for women as they wished them to be. When I started choreographing for classical ballet companies there been, before me two women who had ever made a ballet on a classical company. So, of course, I'm interested in the male dancer. Plus which, not only Mischa (Baryshnikov), but Rudi (Nureyev) was a virtuoso, and (Edward) Villella. There are these days young men dancing who have a power and potency that we respond to because of athletics. We're trained, unfortunately, and indoctrinated in the facts that the male physicality can be marketed in a way the female cannot. Consequently, you have the multimillion-dollar athletes in the male world, and practically none in the female. This has had an impact in the dance world. The stars there in the classical world these days are men. I was fortunate to love men, so I could put them on stage and make roles for them, and move through their bodies in a way that they enjoy doing that they responded to, as the ballerinas have to male choreographers for centuries.

Is the humor and wit in your work a conscious effort?

Twyla Tharp: Any comic is a tragic soul.

It's just a part of my nature. It also is true that comedy is one of the things that allows one to survive. Particularly if one has been in the process of separating off the emotions, it's one place you can process them. I think that there's been an element of that in the work. It's also true that comedy is something that allows an audience to engage in art. It welcomes them in. It allows them to connect with it, and that's always been very important to me. I have not wanted to intimidate audiences. I have not wanted my dancing to be an elitist form. That doesn't mean I haven't wanted it to be excellent, and absolutely everything that could be accomplished. I just have not wanted it to be elitist. I learned very early that an audience would relax and would look at things differently if they felt they could laugh with you from time to time. It became a more human thing, and I encouraged that. Plus which, there's an energy -- and dancing, after all, is about energy -- that comes through the release of tension that is laughter. There's something that sparkles in humor in a way that nothing else does. And I'm always very, very pleased to see that element when it just comes, and it's just out.

What are you most interested in accomplishing next?

Twyla Tharp Interview Photo
Twyla Tharp: I'm co-writing a movie. We have a first draft done. I want to get this movie produced. I will direct and choreograph it. It is a musical of a sort that hasn't really been approached before.

I have lots of intuitions about musicals, because I've worked on five pictures, and have always felt a little frustrated. I've worked with wonderful directors. Milos Forman is a great director, Jim Brooks is a wonderful writer and director. It's not that I begrudge their efforts, it's just that they are not at heart musical souls. It's been a long while since there has been a musical soul at the helm.

I want to say how privileged I feel to be on the cusp of having this opportunity. I'm very, very anxious to exercise it well and curious to see what will happen.

We're all curious as well. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.

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