Columbians Ahead of Their Time
 Twyla Tharp
Twyla Tharp "Art is the only way to run away without leaving home."

Twyla Tharp (1941– )
Barnard College 1963

One of the most respected and popular choreographers of our time, Twyla Tharp is known for pieces that combine elements of classical ballet with jazz and modern dance techniques. As the San Francisco Chronicle has written, "virtually all dance techniques are mutually compatible in Tharp's universe, where the classical and the unclassifiable tend to smile side by side." Tharp's professional dance debut came with the Paul Taylor company in 1963; beginning in 1965 she ran her own companies for more than two decades. After merging her company with the American Ballet Theatre in 1988, she served ABT as a lead choreographer until 1991. At that time she reestablished Twyla Tharp Dance, which continues to tour internationally. Over her long career she has choreographed for the Joffrey Ballet, New York City Ballet, Royal Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, and others, working with such greats as Mikhail Barishnykov and Jerome Robbins along the way. In 1973 she collaborated with Robert Joffrey on Deuce Coupe, a piece set to songs by the Beach Boys; almost thirty years later the pop songs of Billy Joel provided the basis for the modern dance performance Movin' Out (2002), which has proven a hit on Broadway. All told she has choreographed more than 125 pieces, working in film and television as well as the stage. Notable works include The Fugue (1970), As Time Goes By (1973), When We Were Very Young (1980), Sinatra Suite (1984), Cutting Up (1991), and The Beethoven Seventh (2000).

An Indiana native, Tharp moved to California as a child and began college at Pomona. She transferred to Barnard in her sophomore year, completing her degree in art history in 1963. "I was allowed to take, outside of the physical education department, all the dancing that I could avail myself of in New York," Tharp has said, "which, at the time, was really quite extraordinary." In fact, during that time she studied with Igor Schwezoff, Richard Thomas, Barbara Fallis, Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, and Eugene Lewis. Among her many awards are the Barnard College Medal of Distinction (1982) and a 1992 MacArthur Fellowship.

Read more about Tharp in the Columbia Encyclopedia.

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