Legendary dancer-choreographer Twyla Tharp goes one-on-one with Westchester Magazine
Photograph by Bill King
Sure, she has choreographed some 135 ballets, four Broadway shows, six movies and worked closely with the likes of Mikhail Baryshnikov, but Twyla Tharp is no ivory-tower type. Her Joffrey Ballet Deuce Coupe featured the music of the Beach Boys, and her Billy Joel-based Broadway show, Movin’ Out, won a Tony. Tharp’s no-nonsense approach to artistic expression will be the subject of her Castle Conversation at Manhattanville College on Sept. 20. Here is what the 75-year-old icon had to say during her exclusive interview with us.
Despite belonging to the dance world elite, you’ve consistently shared your wisdom with the world at large. What can attendees of your Castle Conversation expect?
The lecture is based on my book The Creative Habit. It covers in specific detail how I work, starting out with basically an empty space, and how I get past that emptiness, start to work and keep working. It’s pretty simple in that you begin, have a middle and then get done—if you’re lucky [laughs].
You’re known for brilliantly blending so many forms of music and dance into your work: pop, classical ballet, modern dance, etc. How and why?
This is where we have to acknowledge that none of us is really original…. But I was the product of an incredibly eclectic upbringing and had a mother who was determined that I would have every possible tool to meet any professional challenge, no matter what I wanted to do…. She was a classical musician, but she played pop music. To me, music was music.
Did you face resistance from those who felt different artistic forms should not be blended?
As a student, you discover that people who are experts are often very narrow-minded. If you want to learn from them, you don’t question their biases, you just take the skills you need. Don’t waste time. So, I would say that I’ve certainly been exposed to many people who are extremely regulated and “containerized,” but I take whatever I can use from them, and I’m grateful.
You once said that dancers don’t age. Could you tell us what you meant by that?
Movement is a connection to remaining vital and to having a kind of youthfulness. Look at people in their ’70s and ’80s who are ballroom dancing, who are square dancing. They’re not aging! They are moving, and that kind of activity propels the body to keep generating the what-with-all to continue functioning.
Non-dance question: Do you have a surprising guilty pleasure, e.g., a TV show or favorite food, etc.?
I’ll have to say “work”— but I prefer not to feel guilty about it.