"A lot of people insisted on a wall between modern dance and ballet. I'm beginning to think that walls are very unhealthy things.""Any comic is a tragic soul. 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.""Dance has never been a particularly easy life, and everybody knows that.""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.""I don't think politicians should be allowed into power who are not familiar with their bodies, because that's where our bottom line is. And I know that they would make totally different decisions if they felt responsible simply for their own bodies.""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.""I have the wherewithal to challenge myself for my entire life. That's a great gift.""I learned very early that an audience would relax and look at things differently if they felt they could laugh with you from time to time. There's an energy that comes through the release of tension that is laughter.""I never studied with Balanchine, but his work was very important to me.""I often say that in making dances I can make a world where I think things are done morally, done democratically, done honestly.""I started formal piano training when I was 4. From there I had little violas, and I had dancing lessons of every sort and description, and painting lessons. I had German. And shorthand.""I think people want very much to simplify their lives enough so that they can control the things that make it possible to sleep at night.""I think that anyone who's pushed to do the very best that they can is privileged. It's a luxury.""I thought I had to make an impact on history. I had to become the greatest choreographer of my time. That was my mission. Posterity deals with us however it sees fit. But I gave it 20 years of my best shot.""I was privileged to be able to study a year with Martha Graham, the last year she was teaching.""I would have to challenge the term, modern dance. I don't really use that term in relation to my work. I simply think of it as dancing. I think of it as moving.""I'm not one who divides music, dance or art into various categories. Either something works, or it doesn't.""In terms of individuals who actually inspired me, very few of the academic people that I had access to had that power over me. Maybe it's simply because I wasn't that committed to geometry.""In those days, male dancers were a rarer breed than women. as they are still today, A good male dancer, one as strong as we were, was very difficult to come by if you couldn't afford to pay them.""It is extremely arrogant and very foolish to think that you can ever outwit your audience.""It was not until I had graduated from college that I made a professional commitment to it. Frankly, I didn't think it wise. I was my own interior parental force, and it's very difficult to justify a profession as a dancer.""My mother was a dominant force in my life. She had a very specific idea about education, which was: you should know everything about everything. It was quite simple. There was no exclusivity, and there really was no judgment.""Optimism with some experience behind it is much more energizing than plain old experience with a certain degree of cynicism.""The formal education that I received made little sense to me.""The necessity to constantly turn in an excellent performance, to be absolutely wedded to this dedication and this ideal means that as a child you're going to pay for it personally.""The only thing I fear more than change is no change. The business of being static makes me nuts.""The rewards of dancing are very different from choreographing.""There's this expression called postmodernism, which is kind of silly, and destroys a perfectly good word called modern, which now no longer means anything.""With each piece I've completed I have worked to make it intact, and each of them has been an equal high. It's like children. A mother refuses to pick out one as a favorite, and I can't do any better with the dances."
Tharp was born in 1941 on a farm in Portland, Indiana, and was named after Twila Thornburg, the "Pig Princess" of the 89th Annual Muncie Fair in Indiana.
Tharp's family...younger sister Twanette, twin brothers Stanley and Stanford, mother Lecile and father William...moved to Rialto, California, in 1951,. Her parents opened a drive-in movie theater, where Tharp worked from the time she was 8 years old. The drive-in was on the corner of Acacia and Foothill, the major east—west artery in Rialto and the path of Route 66. She attended Pacific High School in San Bernardino and studied at the Vera Lynn School of Dance. Tharp, a "devoted bookworm," admits that this schedule left little time for a social life. Tharp attended Pomona College in California but later transferred to Barnard College in New York City, where she graduated with a degree in Art History in 1963. It was in New York that she studied with Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham. In 1963 Tharp joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company.
In 1965, she formed her own company, Twyla Tharp Dance. Tharp's work often utilizes classical music, jazz and contemporary pop music. From 1971 to 1988, Twyla Tharp Dance performed original works around the world. In 1988, Twyla Tharp Dance merged with American Ballet Theatre, since which ABT has held the world premieres of sixteen of Tharp's works. As of 2010, they have a total of twenty of her works in their repertory. In 1999, Twyla Tharp Dance regrouped and performed Tharp's choreography around the world with a company of dancers that eventually led to the creation of Movin' Out.
Commissions and Tours
In 1973, Tharp choreographed Deuce Coupe to the music of The Beach Boys for The Joffrey Ballet.Deuce Coupe is considered to be the first crossover ballet. Later she choreographed Push Comes To Shove (1976), which featured Mikhail Baryshnikov and is now thought to be the best example of the crossover ballet. Tharp has since choreographed dances for: Paris Opera Ballet, The Royal Ballet, New York City Ballet, Boston Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Miami City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Hubbard Street Dance and Martha Graham Dance Company. Tharp also created the dance roadshow Cutting Up, (1991) with Mikhail Baryshnikov which went on to tour and appear in 28 cities over two months.
In 1980, Tharp's work first appeared on Broadway with Twyla Tharp Dance performing When We Were Very Young, followed in 1981 by The Catherine Wheel, her collaboration with David Byrne at the Winter Garden.
In 1985, her staging of Singin' in the Rain, played at the Gershwin for 367 performances and was followed by a national tour.
Tharp premiered her dance musical Movin' Out, set to the music and lyrics of Billy Joel in Chicago in 2001. The show opened on Broadway in 2002. Movin' Out ran for 1,331 performances on Broadway. A national tour opened in January 2004.
Tharp opened a new show titled The Times They Are a-Changin', to the music of Bob Dylan in 2005 at The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. The Times they are A-Changin' set the records or the highest grossing show and highest ticket sales as of the date of closing (March 2006). It was also the first time a show received a second extension before the first preview. After this record setting run in California, the New York show ran for 35 previews and 28 performances.
In 2009, Tharp worked with the songs of Frank Sinatra to mount Come Fly With Me, which ran at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta and was the best selling four-week run as of the date of closing in 2009. Renamed Come Fly Away the show opened on Broadway in 2010 at the Marquis Theatre in New York and ran for 26 previews and 188 performances.
Film, Television & Print
Tharp collaborated with film directors Milos Forman on Hair (1978), Ragtime (1980) and Amadeus (1984); Taylor Hackford on White Nights (1985) and James Brooks on I'll Do Anything (1994).
Television credits include choreographing Sue's Leg (1976) for the inaugural episode of the PBS program Dance in America,; co-producing and directing Making Television Dance (1977), which won the Chicago International Film Festival Award; and directing The Catherine Wheel (1983) for BBC Television. Tharp co-directed the award-winning television special "Baryshnikov by Tharp" in 1984.
Tharp has written three books: an early autobiography, Push Comes to Shove (1992; Bantam Books); The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life (2003, Simon & Schuster), translated into Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Japanese; “The Collaborative Habit” (2009, Simon & Schuster), also translated into Korean.
Twyla Tharp received two Emmy Awards, 19 honorary doctorates, the Vietnam Veterans of America President’s Award, the 2004 National Medal of the Arts, and numerous grants including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
At the 1982 Barnard College commencement ceremonies, Tharp's alma mater awarded her its highest honor, the Barnard Medal of Distinction.
She received the Tony Award for Best Choreography and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Choreography for the 2002 musical Movin' Out. She received a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Choreography for the musical Singin' in the Rain.
In 2007, Tharp received honoris causa degrees from Duke and Princeton Universities.
She was named a Kennedy Center Honoree for 2008.
Tharp was inducted into the Academy of Achievement in 1993.
Awards by year
The Lepercq Foundation
Foundation for the Contemporary Performing Arts, 1970
Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, John S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation
The Emma A. Sheafer Trust, 1970—1981, 1985
John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, 1971, 1974
National Endowment for the Arts Choreographers Fellowship, 1971, 1973
New York State Council on the Arts Annual Support, 1971—1986
Brandeis University, Creative Arts Citation
National Endowment for the Arts Annual Support, 1973—1986
Creative Artists Public Service Program
Edward John Nobel Foundation
New York Public Library Dance Collection
The Place Trust, London
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, 1974—1978, 1982, 1983, 1986
Eight Jelly Rolls, 1st in Festival in Video and Modern Dance Video Certificate of Honor
Making Television Dance, Modern Dance Video Certificate of Merit
Mademoiselle Magazine, Mademoiselle Magazine Award
Exxon Corporation, 1976, 1980, 1982—1984, 1986
The Green Fund, 1977, 1980, 1981
National Endowment for the Arts Challenge Grant, 1977, 1985
The Shubert Foundation, 1977, 1978, 1980—1986
Dance Film Association, 7th Annual Dance Video and Film Festival
Honorary Degree, California Institute of the Arts
Silver Satellite Award for Making Television Dance, American Women in Radio & Television
The Ford Foundation, 1978, 1980
The Ford Motor Company, 1978—1985
The Surdna Foundation, 1978, 1980, 1985
Soho Arts Second Annual Awards, The Soho Weekly News
Honorary Degree, Bucknell University
The Scherman Foundation, 1979, 1980, 1982—1985
The David Merrick Arts Foundation
Mobil Foundation, Inc., 1979, 1981—1986
Honorary Degree, Bates College
Dance Educators of America Award for Making Television Dance
Screening and Red Ribbon Award for Making Television Dance
The Booth Ferris Foundation
Chase Manhattan Bank, 1980—1982
Con Ed, 1980—1985
Morgan Guarantee Trust, 1980—1981, 1983—1984, 1986
The Jerome Robbins Foundation, 1980, 1983
Film Library Association American Film Festival
Honorary Degree, Bard College
Honorary Degree, Brown University
Dance Magazine Award, Dance Magazine
Dance Film Award for Making Television Dance, Chicago International Film Festival
Indiana Arts Award, Indiana Arts Commission
Doll Foundation, 1981—1986
Norman and Rosita Winston Foundation
Medal of Distinction, Barnard College
Chemical Bank, 1982—1986
National Corporate Fund for Dance, 1982 — 1985
Robert Sterling Clark Foundation
Ida and William Rosenthal Foundation, 1982, 1986
New York Telephone, 1982 — 1985
Spirit of Achievement Award, Albert Einstein College of Medicine