Twyla Tharp once said, “You have to be either hopelessly passionate, or very stupid.
” Vivacious, innovative and unique are a few of the words that come to mind when one thinks about the life and times of dancer, choreographer, and legend, Twyla Tharp. In her early life Twyla was constantly on the go. She was a busy child, who had a broad spectrum of dance experience. The author of Howling Near Heaven explains, “The oldest of four children, she had an ambitious mother who pushed her into improving studies from preschool age: piano, violin, viola, elocution, painting, German and French, baton twirling, and of course, dance lessons” (Siegel, 3).
With an early life as busy as Twyla’s, there is no surprise that her ambition, drive and talent only continued as she grew up. Twyla began her educational path at Pomona College and studied dance. She later transferred to Barnard College and honed in on her talents in ballet at the American Ballet Theatre. At the tender age of 23 she began her own dance company, The Twyla Tharp Dance Company, and in the early 1970’s it achieved great success.
Some of the most famous productions were Time Goes By (1973) and her first Broadway hit in 1980, When We Were very Young (Biography. com). Being such a dominant force that early in her life foreshadowed the success that was bound to follow Twyla. The author explains: She disliked thinking any one movement was more interesting than any other; she didn’t work for rising and falling curves of excitement, dramatic climaxes, and picturesque stage effects. If there was to be any thrill involved, it should come from the extraordinary range of challenges she threw at the dancers and the audience (Siegel, 21). Her colorful and vast dance experience surely played a role in the development of her dance style and creations that are so widely known and acclaimed.
Tharp used dance as an outlet of expression and brought life to her pieces. Furthermore, “Dancing in the studio is what kept her going; it made her happy and drew the dancers to her” (Siegel, 148). The author goes on to say, “Tharp had always buried her feelings superbly in form and abstraction. Some of her most heartfelt dances were perceived as formal, stylistic essays” (Siegel, 148). It is apparent that deep emotion and feelings are immersed into her dances.
She captivates people with her unique dance developments and has changed the face of dance. Her production of When We Were Very Young was her first leap at Broadway and was a huge success. One of the dancers states, “The solo encompasses just about everything I know about dancing and endurance and theatrics and performance. That’s the most satisfying role I’ve ever danced” (Siegel, 160). The affection that the dancers have for Tharp, pails in comparison to the admiration of her fans, that resulted from the show. She followed her first Broadway production with several more, including The Catherine Wheel, Singin’ in the Rain, and Movin’ Out (John F.
Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts). Russian dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov had a great impact on Twyla. She met Mikhail at the Spoleto Festival, and her dancing entranced him. He says, “She made the dancers look like sort of men and women on stage being in a way very whole and very themselves and very grounded and without playing a character, being the people of the streets” (Siegel, 107).
This was an artistic match that made amazing dances that dazzled audiences. He brought fame to the company and also taught Tharp about refining ballet, while showcasing the ingenious choreography she had created. He later became the director of the company and was pivotal in inspiring and bringing Twyla’s dances to life. Twyla and Baryshnikov continued to think of innovation and expansion as they began to move towards televised dance sequences.
A project called Making Television Dance was documented by Joel Gold and was filmed in black and white. Baryshnikov says she was not the easiest person to be partnered with, “She was very spontaneous, of course, and trying too much to help the partner. And that’s always wrong” (Siegel, 117). Tharp constantly strived for perfection and expected her partners to follow suit.
This dance sequence was an imaginative dance video and was an anthology for Twyla. The evolution of her dances making it to the TV screen opened up a new avenue for the expression and presentation of her dances. Perhaps Tharp’s biggest challenge and opportunity came with the offer to be apart of the Hollywood production of Hair. Tharp explains, “I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be involved with a director, that I wanted to have to be put at the mercy of the project” (Siegel, 124).
Tharp had been accustomed to being in absolute control and found a bit of a power struggle with director, Milos Forman. Her fears were accurate, when many of the dances she had made were edited out of the film. Despite disagreements with the director, Twyla did what she was known for doing best: adding dance and movement wherever she could. The author states: She choreographed movement wherever she could. She choreographed gestures throughout the movie, basic training exercises, Frisbee games, and a massive peace rally.
Her tactics ranged from full-out dancing to ingeniously scaled-down steps for the actors with limited dance ability (Siegel, 128). Twyla added life and movement to the film that captured the spirit of the subject. Milos did not fully appreciate the intensity and creative expression of dance and seemed to ignore Tharp’s request for more dancing. Regardless of the disagreements that ensued, Hair was a platform for further fame and success with films, and gave Twyla more notability and recognition. Tharp became involved in other movies such as Ragtime, Amadeus and White Nights. Tharp produced a television production entitled Baryshnikov by Tharp.
This production yielded great success and Twyla received three Emmy Awards and a Director’s Guild of America Award for the special Academy of Achievement). Finally, Tharp was being recognized as an accomplished choreographer and received awards for her accomplishments. Tharp continued to create ballets from the late ‘80’s to the early ‘90’s. She reunited her dance company and worked in a program called Cutting Up, which featured Baryshnikov. Tharp also published an autobiography entitled Push Comes to Shove, in 1992.
Siegel, Marcia B. Howling near heaven: Twyla Tharp and the reinvention of modern dance. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2006. Print. “Twyla Tharp.
” Bio. A;E Television Networks, 2014. Web. 9 May 2014. “Twyla Tharp.
” The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. N. p. , n.
d. Web. 9 May 2014.