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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ornery and Brilliant

posted by on September 25 at 11:57 AM


Twyla Tharp is the world’s most famous living choreographer. She is also famously cranky. In person, she is almost the caricature of prickly genius.

She likes talking about her self-help book, but dislikes talking about her autobiography. She parries any question about her most recent Broadway production—a critically lambasted evening of dance set to Bob Dylan songs—with flat refusal: “This is not a subject for this conversation.”

She is curt and evasive when talking about any dance other than her own, but witheringly loquacious about why it’s a good thing that theater and dance critics are being fired wholesale from American newspapers:

“Very few journalists, critics, or writers in any arena of the arts have the depth of information to give any fodder for thought.”

For any thought?

“For healthy thought.”

Listen to the rest of the tense interview—her being sharp and ornery, me being occasionally flustered—here:

(Highlights: Minute 2:10, Tharp cracks wise. Minute 7:40, Tharp politely explains that young dancers ain’t what they used to be. Minute 15:14, we discuss the reemergence of burlesque. Minute 21:56, we argue about criticism and philosophy—and she gives her thumbs-up to the death of my profession.)

But the 67-year-old dancer and choreographer, who has come to Seattle this month to make two world-premiere ballets for PNB, has earned the right to be ornery. She is not only the most famous living choreographer—she may be the most influential.

Tharp structurally rearranged the dance world in the early 1970s with her ménage à trois of classicism (ballet), avant-garde (minimalism), and pop (rock ‘n’ roll and jazz).

Read more about her in this week’s theater section.

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Just wait until you see the two shows. The Brahms is ok, but the Martynov is fucking astounding. Her talk and preview a few weeks ago was fantastic.

Posted by john | September 25, 2008 12:05 PM

I smell a new guest column: "Shut up while I Carp by Twyla Tharp"

Posted by inkweary | September 25, 2008 12:49 PM

An apt followup to Cheryl Waters with Nick Cave on KEXP yesterday. Cave's suggestion, in response to the last ludicrous question (which he didn't answer), was classic: "You can probably even edit that question out."

Posted by dvnms | September 25, 2008 1:13 PM

Tharp did her best work in the 70's and I am not sure I agree with Mr. Kiley's assessment of her current work or even her place in the current dance arts scene. I know of no one who lists her as an influence much less who is infatuated with her enough to sit through talking with her for over 20 minutes. Hope you got hazard pay to be honest! This is a woman who proclaimed in her last visit to Seattle that after 45 years in the performing arts she finally understands humor and how to use it... (She doesn't by the way...)

Posted by artlover | September 26, 2008 11:33 AM

John, I went last night. The Martynov was great! And to me, a novice, there were flashes of greatness in the Brahms and lots of wittiness in the Sinatras. Enjoyable.

Posted by dvnms | September 26, 2008 12:41 PM

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