Twyla Tharp

Tamara Warta
contemp

Twyla Tharp is a celebrated American dancer, who has been honored with various awards and accolades over the years. Below you will find some basic information on this celebrated artist, both past and present.

The Beginning of Greatness

Twyla Tharp, unlike many famous choreographers who hail from Europe, was born in Indiana in the early 1940s. She was named after Twila Thornburg, the Pig Princess of the Annual Muncie Fair in Indiana. With such an odd namesake, Twyla started out with simple beginnings, living with her mother and father, along with a younger sister and twin brothers. In 1951, the family moved to California where Twyla worked at the drive-in movie theater that her parents opened in the area. She went on to attend a dance studio and high school, often describing herself as a loner during this time.

After high school she attended college in Southern California, but later transferred to a New York City college. Here she began dancing with Martha Graham as well as Merce Cunningham, which went on to launch one of the biggest careers in dance history.

The Career of Twyla Tharp

After college, Twyla joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company, and shortly thereafter, she founded her own company named Twyla Tharp Dance. This company joined forces with the American Ballet Theatre in 1988, and with this new merge, Tharp choreographed over a dozen projects. However, she was far from limited to her New York home base, as she also choreographed around this time for prestigious companies including The Royal Ballet, New York City Ballet and the Martha Graham Dance Company.

These national and abroad dance credits led to Tharp's first Broadway piece, which debuted in 1980, followed by a second in 1981. After these, she restaged Singin' in the Rain, which played at the Gershwin in 1985 for more than 350 performances.

Tharp has also had some opportunities to break away from live theatre, having choreographed for such famous movies as Hair, Amadeus, and I'll Do Anything.

Perhaps what has made Tharp such a precious commodity to both stage and screen is her high level of versatility. Her choreography often includes contrasting styles of dance like ballet and jazz.

Collaborations

Twyla Tharp also collaborated with many artists over the years, creating some of dance's most famous moments. She worked with acclaimed dancer and choreographer Mikhail Baryshnikov on a program called Cutting Up, which went down in history as one of the most successful contemporary dance tours in existence, playing in 28 cities in a two month period.

She also worked with Billy Joel in 2002 with the wildly popular musical Movin' Out on Broadway. For this, she won a Tony award, and was also honored with a handful of other awards and accolades for her work in the production.

Tharp is a wonderful collaborator, as she loves to use different types of music, never sticking to a single style. This has made her a versatile partner for some true greats of dance and music.

Twyla Tharp has choreographed over 135 dances total since the beginning of her career, also working in television and writing a couple of books, including her own autobiography. She has inspired a whole new generation of dancers, continually proving there are always new things to accomplish in the world of dance, with plenty of stories still left to be written. Many choreographers have gone on to train and style their choreography after Tharp, though none have succeeded at replicating the style, grace and tenacity of this legendary American choreographer.

Twyla Tharp