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Biographies - Twyla Tharp
Twyla Tharp
Image Source: Twyla Tharp @ Columbia University
Twyla Tharp
Born: July 1, 1941
American dancer and choreographer who won three Emmy Awards for her 1985 television production Baryshnikov by Tharp.


Twyla Tharp was born in Portland, Indiana, but moved with her parents to Southern California when she was still a child. Twylas father owned a construction firm and a Ford dealership. Her mother was a piano teacher who began to give Twyla piano lessons when she was only two.

Twyla began dance classes when she was only four, and soon was studying every kind of dance available: ballet, tap, jazz. modern. Her mother was determined that she become accomplished in as many fields as possible and also had her take baton lessons, drum lessons, violin and viola lessons, classes in painting, shorthand and French.

Twyla Tharp left home for the first time to go to Pomona College, but in her first year was almost expelled for making out with her boyfriend in the college chapel. Twyla transferred to Barnard College in New York City.

At Barnard, Twyla studied art history, but her passion was in the dance classes she took off campus. In New York, Twyla was able to study at the American Ballet Theater school, and with most of the great masters of modern dance: Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor and Erick Hawkins.

Twyla Tharp completed her art history degree but, after graduating, she resolved to make a career in dance. She joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 1963, but left to start her own group in 1965. This company, composed of five women (two men were added in 1969), worked ceaselessly for five years, earning little or no money, performing wherever they could.

In the cultural ferment of New York in the 1960s, most young artists felt challenged to test the boundaries of their media. Twyla Tharps work combined a classical discipline and rigor with avant-garde iconoclasm, combined ballet technique with natural movements like running, walking and skipping. If modern dance was supposed to be serious and spiritual, Twylas was humorous and edgy. She worked less often with contemporary avant-garde music than with classical music, contemporary pop songs, a clicking metronome, or silence. Always, the choreography was dynamic, unpredictable and underpinned by an unusually thorough musical intelligence. This became apparent to critics and audiences alike with her 1971 piece, The Fugue. Her group was invited to participate in major dance festivals where pieces like The Bix Pieces and Eight Jelly Rolls grabbed audiences with their physical daring and deep roots in the history of jazz.

Twyla Tharp and many of her dancers were now invited to collaborate and perform with the major ballet companies, first the Joffrey Ballet with her Deuce Coupe (to music of the Beach Boys), As Time Goes By and Sues Leg (to music of Fats Waller) and then the American Ballet Theater, where Mikhail Baryshnikov danced the lead role in her Push Comes to Shove, which juxtaposed variations by Mozart with rags by Scott Joplin.

In 1979 she choreographed the dances for Milos Formans film version of the 60s rock musical Hair. In 1981 she staged a full-length dance production The Catherine Wheel, with music by David Byrne in his first venture as a composer outside of the rock band Talking Heads. Twyla has staged dances for the films Ragtime, Amadeus and White Nights. Her 1985 television production, Baryshnikov by Tharp, won Emmy Awards for Outstanding Choreography, Outstanding Writing and Outstanding Choreography of a classical music or dance program.

Her autobiography Push Comes to Shove was published in 1992. In the same year, she received a MacArthur Fellowship, one of the so-called genius grants. She continues to work with the worlds great ballet companies and to choreograph and direct for film and television.®    Introduction    Privacy Policy    Conditions of Use    

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