Twyla Tharp

(1 July 1941 – )

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Twyla Tharp is an American dancer and choreographer. She is most known for developing a contemporary dance style that combines ballet and modern dance techniques.
Her childhood house in Indiana had a playroom equipped with a dance floor and ballet barres. Tharp enjoyed music and Flamenco dancing and began ballet lessons at the age of 12. Later she moved to New York City where she sought a degree in art history. In her spare time she studied at the American Ballet Theater school and danced with several great masters of modern dance: Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor and Erick Hawkins. After completing her degree in art history in 1963 she joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company. Two years later, in 1965, she decided to start her own dance company – Twyla Tharp Dance. The company started out very small and struggled for the first five years. It wasn’t long, however, before many of the company dancers were asked to perform with major ballet companies. Twarp’s contemporary dance style was characterized by improvisation or making up dance movements on the spot. Her style included combining strict ballet technique with natural movements such as running, walking and skipping. Unlike the seriousness nature of much modern dance, Tharp’s choreography had a humorous and edgy quality. She referred to her relaxed style as the “stuffing” of movement phrases often adding squiggles, shrugged shoulders, little hops, and jumps to conventional dance steps. With mixing all these different elements Twyla expanded the boundaries of ballet and modern dance. Even her choice of music was unconventional as she often worked with classical or pop music or simply silence.

Twyla Tharp Dance merged with American Ballet Theatre, which held world premiers of sixteen of her works and have several of her works their repertory, in 1988. Tharp has choreographed dances for several major dance companies including 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’s talent has led to numerous works on Broadway, film, television and print so she is the recipient of many awards, including five honorary doctorates.


Twyla Tharp’s in the upper room