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Twyla Tharp

Born July 1, 1941 (1941-07-01) (age 68)
Portland, Indiana, USA
Occupation Choreographer, dancer
Years active 1960s-present
Official website

Twyla Tharp (born July 1, 1941) is an American dancer and choreographer. She has won Emmy and Tony awards, and currently works as a choreographer in New York City.




Early years

Tharp was born in Portland, Indiana and was named for Twila Thornburg, the "Pig Princess" of the 89th Annual Muncie Fair in Indiana. Tharp's family (including younger sister Twanette, twin brothers Stanley and Stanford, mother Lecile and father William) moved to Rialto, California in 1951,[1] where her parents opened a drive-in movie theater on the corner of Acacia and Foothill, the major east-west artery in Rialto and the path of Route 66.[2] During this period she worked at the drive-in, studied at the Vera Lynn School of Dance and attended Pacific High School in San Bernardino. Tharp admitted that in her early years she had no time for social life because of the need to work in her spare time since the age of 8 years old.[3] She was also a "devoted bookworm" as a girl.[4]

Tharp attended Pomona College in California, but transferred to Barnard College in New York City. It was in New York that she studied with Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham. She graduated from Barnard with a degree in art history in 1963.


Tharp joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company out of college. In 1965 she formed her own company, called Twyla Tharp Dance, which was to stand on its own until 1988, and for periods thereafter.

From 1971 to 1988 Twyla Tharp Dance performed original works around the world. In 1973 Tharp created a dance titled "Deuce Coupe" for The Joffrey Ballet, which is considered to be the first ever “cross-over” ballet. As in this early piece, Tharp's work often utilizes classical music, jazz and contemporary pop music. In 1988, Twyla Tharp Dance merged with American Ballet Theatre, where Tharp created more than a dozen works. Since that time Tharp has choreographed dances for many companies including The Paris Opera Ballet, The Royal Ballet, New York City Ballet, The Boston Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance and The Martha Graham Dance Company. In 1991, Tharp regrouped her company Twyla Tharp Dance and created a program with Mikhail Baryshnikov called Cutting Up, which went on to appear in 28 cities over a two month period. From 1999 to 2003, Twyla Tharp Dance toured internationally.

Tharp continues to create works and lecture around the world.


Tharp's work first went to Broadway in 1980 with When We Were Very Young, followed in 1981 by her collaboration with David Byrne on The Catherine Wheel at the Winter Garden. In 1985 her staging of Singin' in the Rain, which played at the Gershwin for 367 performances, followed by an extensive national tour.

In 2002, Tharp premiered Billy Joel's award-winning dance musical Movin' Out on Broadway, and a national tour opened in January, 2004. The recipient of a 2003 Tony Award for Movin' Out, Tharp was also honored with the 2003 Astaire Award; the Drama League Award for Sustained Achievement in Musical Theater; and both the Drama Desk Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Choreography. Movin' Out ran for 1331 performances on Broadway. The show "made stars of the dancers John Selya, Keith Roberts, Elizabeth Parkinson and Ashley Tuttle."[4]

In 2005, Tharp created a show titled The Times They Are a-Changin', to the music of Bob Dylan. After a successful run in San Diego, the New York show closed after 35 previews and 28 performances.

In 2010, Tharp is reaching back to early work with the songs of Frank Sinatra to mount “Come Fly Away” at the Marquis Theatre (opening March 25), which "follows four couples looking for love in a New York City nightclub and features the vocals of" Sinatra. Earlier Tharp works using Sinatra songs include the duet “Once More Frank” (1976, Tharp and Baryshnikov), "'Nine Sinatra Songs,' from 1982 (choreographed after Ms. Tharp studied the partnering of Irene and Vernon Castle for ... Ragtime)", and “Sinatra Suite,” (1982); the latter two "remain in the repertories of [dance] companies across the world."[4] The Broadway show in an earlier form, then titled "Come Fly With Me," ran at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta in 2009. The four-couple cast in Atlanta (and in New York[4]) was Rika Okamoto, Karine Plantadit, Matthew Dibble (formerly of the Royal Ballet), Holley Farmer (transitioning from the Merce Cunningham Dance Company), Laura Mead, Charlie Neshyba-Hodges, Selya (20 years dancing with Tharp) and Roberts.[5] While the new show incorporates segments from the earlier dances, Tharp asserted, preparing for the New York premiere, that she's grown since the dances were created and the dances show it. "'It’s a physical metaphor for an emotional condition,' Ms. Tharp said. 'It has nothing to do with design. It has to do with metaphor. Think I could do that when I did this?', referring to a DVD scene from 'Nine Sinatra Songs.' "'I don’t think so,' she continued. 'You know how I learned stuff like that? Reading 19th-century novelists. Here are the ones: Tolstoy, Dickens, Balzac.'" Reflecting on one repeated song (last in "Nine," next-to-last in "Come"), Tharp said "My Way" is the "most meaningful" to her. "'People read ‘My Way’ wrong,' she said. 'They read it from the lyrics and think that the man singing the song is saying, "Things got to be done my way." Unfortunately I think we’ve probably all had the experience that if we’re in a relationship where one of the partners is doing it "my" way, that relationship is not going to survive.'"[4]

Other media

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" for the inaugural episode of the PBS program Dance in America, co-producing and directing Making Television Dance, which won the Chicago International Film Festival Award; and directing The Catherine Wheel for BBC Television. Tharp co-directed the television special "Baryshnikov by Tharp," which won two Emmy Awards as well as the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Director Achievement.

Tharp wrote her first book in 1992, the autobiography Push Comes to Shove. Her second book, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life was published in October 2003. Her third, “The Collaborative Habit” (Simon & Schuster), included thoughts on the Dylan show. "[H]er biggest mistake [there, Tharp said] was deviating from her initial instinct: to create a dancing show based on Mr. Dylan’s love songs. 'To have used them and dramatized the relationships they suggest might have produced a show I could feel more intensely,' she wrote."[4]


Tharp has a son, Jesse Huot, and a grandson, Huot's son.[4]

Honors and awards

She 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.[6]

Tharp was inducted into the Academy of Achievement in 1993.[7]

1965 Walter Gutman

1969 George Irwin, The Lepercq Foundation

1970 Foundation for the Contemporary Performing Arts, 1970 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, John S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation The Emma A. Sheafer Trust, 1970 - 1981, 1985

1971 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

1972 Brandeis University, Creative Arts Citation,

1973 National Endowment for the Arts Annual Support, 1973 - 1986

1974 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

1975 Eight Jelly Rolls, 1st in Festival in Video and Modern Dance Video Certificate of Honor Making Television Dance, Modern Dance Video Certificate of Merit

1976 Mademoiselle Magazine, Mademoiselle Magazine Award Exxon Corporation, 1976, 1980, 1982 - 1984, 1986

1977 The Green Fund, 1977, 1980, 1981 National Endowment for the Arts Challenge Grant, 1977, 1985 The Shubert Foundation, 1977, 1978, 1980-1986

1978 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

1979 Soho Arts Second Annual Awards, The Soho Weekly News Honorary Degree, Bucknell University The Scherman Foundation, 1979, 1980, 1982 - 1985 United Artists The David Merrick Arts Foundation Mobil Foundation, Inc., 1979, 1981 - 1986

1980 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

1981 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 Citibank, 1981 - 1986 Doll Foundation, 1981 - 1986 Weil Foundation Norman and Rosita Winston Foundation Rockefeller Foundation

1982 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

1983 Spirit of Achievement Award, Albert Einstein College of Medicine Honorary Degree, Williams College Indiana Arts Award, Indiana Arts Commission The Thorne Foundation Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, 1983 - 1984, 1986 C.L. Glazer Trust The Klingenstein Fund, Warner Communications

1984 Mayor's Award of Honor for Arts and Culture, Edward I. Koch, New York, N.Y. Dance Masters of America 1984 Choreographer's Award Arthur Andersen and Company, 1984 - 1986 Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Booth Ferris Foundation Brooklyn Union and Gas Merrill Lynch, 1984, 1986 New York Times Company Foundation, 1984 - 1986

1985 Emmy Awards for Baryshnikov by Tharp choreography and co- direction, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement for Baryshnikov by Tharp Indiana Arts Award, Indiana Arts Commission APA Trucking, The Charles Engelhard Foundation Corporate Property Investors Hausman Belding Foundation Gerald D. Hines Interests GFI/Knoll International NBC, 1985 - 1986 Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation, 1985, 1986 Zayre Corporation,

1986 University Medal of Excellence, Columbia University Bankers Trust Cadillac Fairview MCA Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company Ridgewood Energy Corporation,

1987 Honorary Degree, Indiana University Honorary Degree, Pomona College Golden Plate Award, American Academy of Achievement

1988 Honorary Degree, Hamilton College Honorary Degree, Skidmore College

1989 Honorary Degree, Marymount Manhattan College Lions of the Performing Arts Award, New York Public Library

1990 Samuel M. Scripps Award, American Dance Festival

1991 Laurence Olivier Award for In the Upper Room, Laurence Olivier Foundation Wexner Foundation Award, The Ohio State University Wexner Center for the Arts

1992 MacArthur Fellowship, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Ruth Page Visiting Arts, Harvard University, 1992-1993

1993 Golden Plate Award, American Academy of Achievement Woman of Achievement, Barnard College Inducted, American Academy of Arts and Sciences

1996 Arts Award, Dickinson College Honorary Degree, Ball State University Distinguished Artist Award, International Society For The Performing Arts

1997 American Honorary Member, American Academy of Arts and Letters

1998 Trust for Mutual Understanding

1999 MOCA Award to Distinguished Women In The Arts, Museum Of Contemporary Art

2000 The Doris Duke Awards for New Work

2001 Women’s Project & Productions Exceptional Achievement Award

2002 New York Awards Lifetime Achievement

2003 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Choreography MOVIN’ OUT Tony Award Best Choreography MOVIN’ OUT Drama League Outstanding Achievement Award for Musical Theatre TDF/Astaire Award Best Choreographer MOVIN’ OUT Indiana Living Legend, Indiana Historical Society Glamour Woman of the Year Award Outstanding Contribution to the Arts Award North Carolina School of the Arts

2004 National Medal of Arts Vietnam Veterans of America President’s Award for Excellence in the Arts Independent Reviewers of New England Award Best Choreography MOVIN’ OUT-Broadway in Boston Goddard Space Flight Center’s Center Director’s Colloquium Citation for Enlightening, Creative and Thought-Provoking Presentation

2005 Best Choreography MOVIN’ OUT Touring Broadway Awards Jane Addams Medal for Distinguished Service presented by Rockford College

2006 Princess Grace Award – Outstanding Artistry Critics Circle Dance Award Outstanding Choreography – MOVIN’ OUT London

2007 Honorary Degree Duke University, Durham, North Carolina Honorary Degree Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 2007 Touring Broadway Award: Best Choreography for a touring show for MOVIN’ OUT.

2008 The Jerome Robbins Prize The Kennedy Center Honors

2009 US News & World Report: listed on "America's Best Leaders"

See also

Brahms/Handel, collaborative ballet with Jerome Robbins


  1. ^ James Hebert (2006-01-29). "Twyla Tharp found a kindred spirit to inspire "The Times They Are A-Changin'" at Old Globe". The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 2009-02-16. 
  2. ^ Adams, John Anthony (2004). Rialto. Images Of America. Arcadia Publishing. pp. 85. ISBN 0738528927. Retrieved 2008-07-23. 
  3. ^ "Interview: Twyla Tharp Dancer and Choreographer". Academy of Achievement. 2007. pp. 3. Retrieved 2008-08-13. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Tharp Is Back Where the Air Is Rarefied", by Gia Kourlas, The New York Times, March 5, 2010 (March 7, 2010 p. AR1 NY ed.). Retrieved 2010-03-07.
  5. ^ "A Nightclub. Sinatra Singing. Couples in Love." by Gia Kourlas, The New York Times, September 16, 2009 (September 20, 2009 p. AR7 NY ed.). Retrieved 2010-03-07.
  6. ^ Andrew Gans (9 September 2008). "Streisand, Freeman, Tharp, Jones, Townshend and Daltrey Are 2008 Kennedy Center Honorees". Playbill. Retrieved 2009-02-16. 
  7. ^ "Twyla Tharp Biography". Academy of Achievement. 2007. Retrieved 2008-09-30. 

External links


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