Tharp far: tar

The formidable choreographer of Hair and Amadeus TWYLA THARP iS Still pushing the right buttons. Words: Denis O’Toole

LEGENDARY AMERICANBORN choreo- grapher and dancer Twyla Tharp is one of the century's great bIenders of high art and popular culture. She has crafted some of the tnost fun and challenging dances of the last 30 years. Not bad for someone who was named after a mid-western farm community Pig Princess the equivalent of a festival May queen. ‘My mother saw the name printed in a newspaper story.‘ says Tharp. now in her

mid-50s. ‘It was spelled with an bttt my mother your face

changed it to a because she thought that would Iook more (/raiizariqtm.‘

The aesthetic polarities the choreographer

is renowned for exploiting are amply evident in Thar/2!. a programme of three new works sters. “and-

picked during extensive global auditioning.

danced by a dozen or so voun

Tharp’s young dancers are hand-picked during global auditioning

Tharp's reputation for prickliness is not unfounded. She has a knack for considering a question, then quietly spitting it back in

These ‘kids‘ are the nearest Tharp has had to a company since the dissolution of her splendid former group in 1988. Some say she is trying to vicariously recapture a lost youth.

Tharp. a silver-haired bantam-weight dressed in no—nonsense casttals. brushes the notion aside. ‘There were dances I wanted to make.‘ she says matter- of-factly. nibbling nuts in a Bloomsbury hotel bar. ‘This seemed the

doing what I wanted to do.‘

One of the world‘s tnost demonicaIIy driven choreographers. Tharp hit her stride in the mid-I‘)7()s and has been at

the top of the heap ever since. Her choice of

music from the Beach Boys and Sinatra to {\"Iozart and Bach is as eclectic as her choreographic range is wide. In a dazzling area. she has Ieapt between Broadway. television. movies (she devised the dances for

most expeditious way of


Twyla Tharp

Hair and Amadeus) and posh venues like American Ballet Theatre. Paris Opera Ballet and the Royal Ballet.

Tharp won‘t be dancing in Thai-pf. ‘It‘s sad and tragic.‘ she mocks. ‘but whaddaya gonna say'."

As a performer she was a first-rate comedienne. She certainly brought out the clown in Mikhail Baryshnikov. a frequent on- stage partner ever since his glorious Americanisation in Tharp’s classic PMS/1 (‘omes T() Show (1976). The title came in handy for her 1992 autobiography. in which she describes their first tumble in the hay with swoony affection.

Tharp‘s reputation for prickliness is not unfounded. She has a knack for considering a question. then quietly spitting it back in your face. Is she shy‘.’

‘Profoundly. So what‘.’ It doesn't matter. Shyness is an indulgence in the same way that confidence is.‘

Asked how she selects dancers. site says: ‘You know it when you see it. I have to be smitten. It‘s a willingness on their part to —‘ she strikes her fist in her palm. ‘and not —‘ Her hand wafIIes in mid—air.

Seeing 'l‘lzar/i.’ is akin to meeting three strong personalities. The sinuoust swift 'IIeroes‘ is set to the tidal pull of a Philip Glass score derived from a Bowie/lino album. In ‘Sweet Fields’. Tharp dips into a suite of early American choral hymns for an exuber- ant study of communal spirit. Shot through with cartoon optimism. ‘(m‘ is a homage to the famous highway her family drove on from Indiana to a new life in California when she was eight.

Tharp has no intention of taking herself or her audiences on a nostalgia trip. She’s always focused on new work. ‘After it got performed once.‘ she wrny remarks about her early dances. ‘it was old work.‘

So why make dances at all? ‘Movement is the essence of living form.‘ she says. ‘So in a way. I am investigating the energy of being alive.‘

Tharp! (International Festival) Edinburgh Playhouse, 0131 225 5756, 11—13 Aug, 7.30pm, £5—£23.

8—14 Aug 1997 THE “ST 27