Twyla Tharp

Twyla Tharp (/ˈtwlə ˈθɑːrp/; born July 1, 1941) is an American dancer, choreographer, and author who lives and works in New York City. In 1966 she formed Twyla Tharp Dance. Her work often uses classical music, jazz, and contemporary pop music.

Twyla Tharp
Born (1941-07-01) July 1, 1941
OccupationChoreographer, dancer
Years active1960s–present
AwardsDrama Desk Award for Outstanding Choreography, 2003 Movin' Out
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography 1985 Baryshnikov by Tharp With American Ballet Theatre
Tony Award for Best Choreography 2003 Movin' Out

From 1971 to 1988 Twyla Tharp Dance toured extensively around the world, performing original works. In 1973 Tharp choreographed Deuce Coupe to the music of The Beach Boys for the Joffrey Ballet. Deuce Coupe is considered the first "crossover ballet", a mix of ballet and modern dance. Later she choreographed Push Comes to Shove (1976), which featured Mikhail Baryshnikov and is now thought to be the best example of crossover ballet.

In 1988 Twyla Tharp Dance merged with American Ballet Theatre, since which time ABT has premiered 16 of Tharp's works.

On May 24, 2018, Tharp was awarded the Doctor of Arts degree by Harvard University.[2]


Early years

Tharp was born in 1941 on a farm in Portland, Indiana, the daughter of Lucille and William Tharp.[1] She was named for Twila Thornburg, the "Pig Princess" of the 89th Annual Muncie Fair.

As a child, Tharp spent a few months each year living with her Quaker grandparents on their farm in Indiana. Her mother insisted she take lessons in dance (ballet, tap, jazz, and modern), and piano, drum, viola, violin, shorthand, German, and French. In 1950 Tharp's family—younger sister Twanette, twin brothers Stanley and Stanford, and her parents—moved to Rialto, California.[3] Her parents opened a drive-in movie theater, where Tharp worked. The drive-in was on the corner of Acacia and Foothill, the major east–west artery in Rialto and the path of Route 66.[4] She attended Pacific High School in San Bernardino and studied at the Vera Lynn School of Dance, and ballet with Beatrice Collenette.[5] A "devoted bookworm",[6] Tharp says her schedule left little time for a social life.[7] She 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. In New York she studied with Richard Thomas, Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham.[8] In 1963 Tharp joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company.

Dances and ballets

In 1965 Tharp choreographed her first dance, Tank Dive,[9] and formed her own company, Twyla Tharp Dance.[10] Her work often utilizes classical music, jazz, and contemporary pop music. From 1971 to 1988 Twyla Tharp Dance toured extensively around the world, performing original works.

In 1973 Tharp choreographed Deuce Coupe to the music of The Beach Boys for the Joffrey Ballet. Deuce Coupe is considered 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 crossover ballet.

In 1988 Twyla Tharp Dance merged with American Ballet Theatre, since which time ABT has premiered 16 of Tharp's works. In 2010 it had 20 of her works in its repertory. 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. She also created the dance roadshow Cutting Up (1991) with Baryshnikov, which went on to tour and appeared in 28 cities over two months.

In 2000 Twyla Tharp Dance regrouped with entirely new dancers. This company also performed around the world, and with it Tharp developed the material that became Movin' Out, an award-winning Broadway musical featuring the songs of Billy Joel and starring many of the dancers in the company.

In 2012 Tharp created the full-length ballet The Princess and the Goblin,[11] based on George MacDonald's story The Princess and the Goblin. It is her first ballet to include children, and was co-commissioned by Atlanta Ballet and Royal Winnipeg Ballet and performed by both companies.

Tharp was the first Artist in Residency (A.I.R.) at Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle. During this time she created and premiered Waiting At The Station, a work with music by R&B artist Allen Toussaint and sets and costumes by longtime collaborator Santo Loquasto.


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. Wheel was broadcast on PBS and its soundtrack released on LP.

In 1985 her staging of Singin' in the Rain played at the Gershwin for 367 performances.[12]

Tharp premiered her dance musical Movin' Out, set to the music and lyrics of Billy Joel, in Chicago in 2001.[13] The show opened on Broadway in 2002.[14] Movin' Out ran for 1,331 performances on Broadway. A national tour opened in January 2004. It received 10 Tony nominations and Tharp won Best Choreographer.[15]

Tharp opened a new show, 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 for the highest-grossing show and highest ticket sales as of the date of closing (March 2006).[16] It was also the first show to receive a second extension before the first preview. After its 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.[17] Renamed Come Fly Away, the show opened on Broadway in 2010 at the Marquis Theatre and ran for 26 previews and 188 performances. Come Fly Away, was retooled and opened under the title Sinatra: Dance with Me at The Wynn Las Vegas in 2011. Come Fly Away National Tour opened in Atlanta in August 2011.

Film, television and print

Tharp collaborated with film directors Miloš Forman on Hair (1978), Ragtime (1980) and Amadeus (1983); 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, Russian, Korean, Thai and Japanese; and The Collaborative Habit (2009, Simon & Schuster), also translated into Thai, Chinese and Korean. Tharp indicated that The Creative Habit is about cybernetics, especially in the several Greek-themed creative exercises, such as the Coin Drop; the Coin Drop, as an exercise in extracting ordered meaning from chaos, is derived from the astrological muse Urania, in that random coins falling onto a flat surface can be used to develop pattern analysis skills. The astrological theme is an etymological underpinning of cybernetics' tradition of "guiding a boat" by sighting stellar references according to ancient Greek navigation.

Works chronology

Dances / ballets / theatre

  • Tank Dive 4/29/65
  • Stage Show 7/7/65
  • Stride 8/9/65
  • Cede Blue Lake 12/1/65
  • Unprocessed 12/1/65
  • Re-Moves 10/18/66
  • Twelve Foot Change 10/18/66
  • One, Two, Three 2/2/67
  • Jam 2/4/67
  • Disperse 4/27/67
  • Yancey Dance 7/1/67
  • Three Page Sonata 7/6/67
  • Forevermore 2/9/68
  • Generation 2/9/68
  • One Way 2/9/68
  • Excess, Idle, Surplus 4/25/68
  • Group Activities 1/13/69
  • After Suite 2/2/69
  • Medley 7/19/69
  • Dancing In The Streets 11/11/69
  • Sowing Of Seeds 6/7/70
  • The Willie Smith Series 7/10/70
  • Rose's Cross Country 8/1/70
  • Fugue, The 8/1/70
  • The One Hundreds 8/1/70
  • 11-Minute Abstract, Repertory 1965-70 11/16/70
  • The History of Up and Down, I and II 1/22/71
  • Sunrise, Noon, Sundown 5/28/71
  • Mozart Sonata K.545 8/1/71
  • Eight Jelly Rolls 9/16/71
  • Torelli 11/2/71
  • Piano Rolls 11/7/71
  • The Bix Pieces 4/14/71
  • The Raggedy Dances 10/26/72
  • Deuce Coupe (ballet) 2/8/73
  • As Time Goes By 10/10/73
  • In the Beginnings 1/26/74
  • All About Eggs 2/1/74
  • The Fugue on London Weekend Television 4/22/74
  • Twyla Tharp and Eight Jelly Rolls 5/12/74
  • Bach Duet 9/5/74
  • Deuce Coupe II 2/1/75
  • Sue's Leg 2/21/75
  • The Double Cross 2/21/75
  • Ocean's Motion 6/22/75
  • Rags Suite Duet 9/10/75
  • Push Comes To Shove 1/9/76
  • Sue's Leg, Remembering the Thirties 3/24/76
  • Give and Take 3/25/76
  • Once More Frank 7/12/76
  • Country Dances 9/4/76
  • Happily Ever After 11/3/76
  • After All 11/15/76
  • Cacklin' Hen 2/14/77
  • Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover 5/12/77
  • Mud 5/12/77
  • Simon Medley 5/12/77
  • The Hodge Podge 5/12/77
  • 1903 2/2/79
  • Chapters and Verses 2/2/79
  • Baker's Dozen 2/15/79
  • Three Dances From The Film "Hair" 2/15/79
  • Three Fanfares 3/14/79
  • Brahms Paganini 2/8/80
  • Deuce Coupe III 2/8/80
  • Assorted Quartets 7/29/80
  • Third Suite 8/26/80
  • Short Stories 8/27/80
  • Uncle Edgar Dyed His Hair Red 2/28/81
  • The Catherine Wheel 9/22/81 (music by David Byrne)
  • Nine Sinatra Songs 10/15/82
  • Bad Smells 10/15/82
  • The Little Ballet 4/1/84
  • Telemann 11/4/83
  • Fait Accompli 11/8/83 (music by David Van Tieghem)
  • "The Golden Section" 11/8/83 (music by David Byrne) (also filmed for PBS)
  • Sinatra Suite 12/6/83
  • Bach Partita 12/9/83
  • Brahms/Handel (ballet), choreography by Tharp and Jerome Robbins 6/7/84
  • Sorrow Floats 7/5/84
  • Singin' in the Rain - Broadway 7/2/85
  • In The Upper Room 8/28/86 (music by Philip Glass)
  • Ballare 8/30/86
  • The Catherine Wheel III 2/2/87
  • Quartet 2/4/89
  • Bum's Rush 2/8/89
  • Rules of the Game 2/17/89
  • Everlast 2/21/89
  • Brief Fling 2/28/90
  • Grand Pas: Rhythm of the Saints 10/1/91 (music by Paul Simon)
  • Men's Piece 10/4/91
  • Octet 10/4/91
  • Sextet 1/30/92
  • Cutting Up: A Dance Roadshow 11/27/93
  • Bare Bones 11/27/93
  • Pergolesi 6/4/93
  • Demeter & Persephone 10/5/93
  • Waterbaby Bagatelles 4/30/94
  • "New Works" Twyla Tharp in Washington: Red, White & Blues" 9/13/94
  • How Near Heaven 3/3/95
  • Americans We 5/1/95
  • Jump Start 5/1/95
  • I Remember Clifford 8/9/95
  • Mr. Worldly Wise 12/9/95
  • The Elements 5/3/96
  • Sweet Fields 9/20/96
  • "66" 9/20/96
  • Heroes 9/20/96
  • Roy's Joys 8/18/97
  • Story Teller, The 10/29/97
  • Noir 1/30/98
  • Yemaya 3/13/98
  • Known By Heart Duet 8/6/98
  • Diabelli 10/22/98
  • Known By Heart 11/3/98
  • Grosse Sonate 7/1/98
  • Beethoven Seventh 1/22/00
  • The Brahms/Haydn Variations aka: Variations on a Theme by Haydn 3/21/00
  • Mozart Clarinet Quintet K. 581 7/6/00
  • Surfer At The River Styx 7/6/00
  • Westerly Round 6/23/01
  • Movin' Out - Chicago 6/25/02
  • Movin' Out - New York 10/24/02
  • Even The King 1/11/03
  • Movin' Out - US Tour 1/27/04
  • The Times They Are A-Changin' - California 2/9/06
  • Catherine Wheel Suite 5/11/06
  • The Times They Are A-Changin' - New York 10/26/06
  • NIGHTSPOT 3/28/08
  • Rabbit and Rogue 6/3/08 (music by Danny Elfman)
  • Opus 111 9/25/08
  • Afternoon Ball 9/25/08
  • Come Fly With Me 9/23/09
  • Come Fly Away 3/25/10
  • Sinatra: Dance With Me - 12/11/10
  • Armenia 4/23/11
  • Come Fly Away Tour 8/3/11
  • Scarlatti 10/13/11
  • The Princess and The Goblin - Atlanta 2/10/12
  • The Princess and the Goblin - Winnipeg 10/17/12
  • Treefrog in Stonehenge 07/26/13
  • Waiting at the Station 09/27/13
  • Come Fly Away (Ballet) 09/28/13
  • Beethoven Opus 130 2016

Collaborative work



  • Scrapbook Tape 10/25/82
  • The Catherine Wheel 3/1/83
  • Baryshnikov by Tharp / Push Comes to Shove 10/5/84
  • Twyla Tharp: Oppositions 4/24/96


  • The Bix Pieces (series of productions) 1973
  • Making Television Dance 10/4/77
  • Dance Is A Man's Sport Too 1980
  • Confessions of a Cornermaker 10/13/81
  • Catherine Wheel, PBS 3/1/83
  • "The Golden Section" from Dance in America: Miami City Ballet 10/28/11


  • Push Comes To Shove 12/92
  • The Creative Habit 9/29/03
  • The Collaborative Habit 11/24/09
  • Keep It Moving: Lessons for the Rest of Your Life 10/29/19

Honors and awards

Tharp has 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 a 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 Movin' Out. She received a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Choreography for Singin' in the Rain.

Tharp was named a Kennedy Center Honoree for 2008.[18] She was inducted into the Academy of Achievement in 1993.[19]

From 2013 to 2014 the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery featured Tharp in the critically acclaimed "Dancing the Dream" exhibition as a pioneer of American modern dance.[20]

On May 24, 2018, she was awarded the Doctor of Arts degree by Harvard University.[2]

Awards by year

Personal life

Tharp has a son and a grandson.[21][22]


  • Tharp, Twyla (1992), Push Comes to Shove, Bantam Books, ISBN 0553073060
  • Tharp, Twyla (2006), The Creative Habit: Learn it and use it for life, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0743235274
  • Tharp, Twyla (2013), The Collaborative Habit: Learn it and use it for life, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 1416576517
  • Tharp, Twyla (2019), Keep It Moving: Lessons for the Rest of Your Life, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 9781982101305


  1. "Twyla Tharp". Encyclopædia Britannica. December 31, 2015. Retrieved Dec 23, 2016.
  3. James Hebert (January 29, 2006). "Twyla Tharp found a kindred spirit to inspire "The Times They Are A-Changin'" at Old Globe". The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved February 16, 2009.
  4. Adams, John Anthony (2004). Rialto. Images Of America. Arcadia Publishing. p. 85. ISBN 0-7385-2892-7. Retrieved July 23, 2008.
  5. James Robert Parish, Twyla Tharp (Infobase Publishing 2009): 14-15. ISBN 9781438112114
  6. "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.
  7. "Twyla Tharp Biography and Interview". American Academy of Achievement.
  8. Craine, Debra and Judith Mackrell. (2010). The Oxford Dictionary of Dance, p. 450.
  9. Kourlas, Gia (4 April 2015). "Twyla Tharp's 50 Years of Forward Movement". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 April 2015.
  10. "Twyla Tharp". Britannica Academic. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  11. Seibert, Brian (12 February 2012). "Toe Shoes That Carry a Princess to Victory". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 March 2012.
  12. Rich, Frank (1985-07-03). "THE STAGE: 'SINGIN' IN THE RAIN' OPENS". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-09-29.
  13. Segal, Lewis (2004-09-20). "'Movin' Out' as fast as they can". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2017-09-29.
  14. "Billy Joel | American musician". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-09-29.
  15. "THEATER/THE TONY AWARDS; How Twyla Tharp Learned to Tell a Tale". The New York Times. 2003-06-01. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-09-29.
  16. Marketing Statement from The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego
  17. Marketing Statement from Alliance Theater
  18. Andrew Gans (9 September 2008). "Streisand, Freeman, Tharp, Jones, Townshend and Daltrey Are 2008 Kennedy Center Honorees". Playbill. Archived from the original on 19 March 2009. Retrieved February 16, 2009.
  19. "Twyla Tharp Biography". Academy of Achievement. 2007. Archived from the original on September 17, 2008. Retrieved September 30, 2008.
  20. Macaulay, Alastair (March 6, 2014). "A Nation's Soul, Tapping and Twirling A Century of American Wonders, in 'Dancing the Dream'". New York Times. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
  21. Kourlas, Gia (3 February 2012). "Tharp's New Tale, Woven In Dance". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 March 2012.
  22. "The ballet and the music of In The Upper Room: an interview with Jesse Huot". Birmingham Royal Ballet. Retrieved 15 February 2019.


  • Siegel, Marcia B. Howling Near Heaven. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2006.
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