b. 1 July 1941, Portland, Indiana, USA. Raised and educated in Indiana and Los Angeles, Tharp studied dance from the age of four. She also learned to play piano, violin and viola. After graduating from New York’s Barnard College in 1963, she danced with Paul Taylor and later formed her own company, which continued with only a short break into the late 80s and was subsequently re-formed. Tharp then joined the American Ballet Theatre (ABT), with whom she had studied while at Barnard, working primarily as choreographer. She also formed Twyla Tharp Dance, which she ran in tandem with her work with ABT. She choreographed and directed a 1985 production of Singin’ In The Rain, which had a successful run at the Gershwin Theatre. In 1992/3 she toured her ‘Cutting Up’ with Mikhail Baryshnikov. In the mid-90s she was again with ABT as choreographer.
Stylistically, Tharp’s work draws from classical and modern ballet and also incorporates jazz dance. Among her ballets, of which she has created more than 150, are ‘Tank Dive’ (1965), ‘The Fugue’ (1971), ‘Deuce Coupe’ (1973, to music by the Beach Boys), ‘Push Comes To Shove’ (1975, written for Baryshnikov and to music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Scott Joplin), ‘When We Were Very Young’ (1980), staged on Broadway, as was ‘The Catherine Wheel’ (1981, music by David Byrne of Talking Heads), ‘Nine Sinatra Songs’ (1987), ‘The Beethoven Seventh’ (2000), and ‘Movin’ Out’ (2002), set to songs by Billy Joel and staged on Broadway with Tharp winning a Tony Award.
Tharp’s ballets have been commissioned and performed by the Paris Opéra Ballet, the Royal Ballet, New York City Ballet, City Center Joffrey Ballet, the Boston Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance and the Martha Graham Dance Company. Tharp also created choreography for the films Hair (1978), Ragtime (1981), Amadeus (1984), White Nights (1985), and I’ll Do Anything (1994). On television she choreographed ‘Sue’s Leg’, to music by Fats Waller, for PBS’s Dance In America, co-produced and directed Making Television Dance, ‘The Scrapbook Tape’, directed The Catherine Wheel for the BBC, and co-directed with Don Mischer Baryshnikov By Tharp, which won her Emmy Awards for choreography and as co-director. This show also brought her the Director’s Guild of America Award for Outstanding Director Achievement.