Why Twyla Tharp Revisiting Her Roots In 'Minimalism And Me’ Is Good For The Dance Industry

by Michael Mahany | 11/15/2018 6:10 AM

Twyla Tharp. Photo credit: David Levene/The Guardian

Twyla Tharp, one of the most recognizable names in dance, is bringing New York City audiences back to where she began; minimalistic and thought provoking expression. In a revisit to some of her earliest works, Minimalism And Me — Tharp's new program that made its New York City debut last night at The Joyce Theatre and runs through December 9  is a trek back to a simpler and more artistically poignant time in the artist's career, and this new exploration might just be the dose of inspiration the current dance industry needs to see.

"In the beginning, I had no music. I had no men in the group. We never had a stage. Basically, we had empty space and time. We were using the most fundamental of materials," Tharp said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune back in December of 2017, when a version of Minimalism And Me originally premiered in the Windy City.

In the current era of dance where everything seems to be competitive and even “class” is hyped up, videoed, and posted online, Tharp’s taking to task the idea of pure, simple, and challengingly imaginative aesthetic is a welcomed one.

According to the Joyce, “In Minimalism and Me, Tharp recollects the creation of her seminal early works and their relationship to the minimalist period in visual art. Members of Twyla Tharp Dance recreate excerpts from many of these works” and “the program, featuring works made from 1965 to 1971, offers audiences a unique view of the work of a remarkable artist during an extraordinary period of innovation.”

The evening’s performance begins with recreations of some of Tharp’s earliest works: Tank Dive— her very first piece from 1965 in which she, according to the New York Times, “spun a yo-yo and held a relevé to the Petula Clark recording of Downtown,” and 1971’s The History Of Up And Down. The second half of the night is a reconstruction of her late 1971 classic Eight Jelly Rolls, an eight-part piece set to music by Jelly Roll Morton and The Red Hot Peppers.

READ MORE: "A 5, 6, 7, 8!" A Chorus Line Returns To NYC To Celebrate City Center's 75th

The idea of simple yet impactful movement and phrasing is the crux from which Tharp grew her style and repertoire.

“…I can bring back the essence of movement — where it came from, how it operated, what it was intended to do,” Tharp told the New York Times. “And in the case of Eight Jelly Rolls, one of the biggest components is that we loved doing it. One of the things that people found interesting is that we were actually having fun, and it was still called dance.”

Twyla Tharp in "Generation" in 1968. Photo credit: Robert Propper

A small dose of simple movement or conceptually boundary-pushing aesthetic might not be the end-all be-all answer to dance’s continued legacy in the world, but the wisdom and artistic integrity Ms. Tharp set out upon is certainly something dancers and choreographers might want to keep in the back of their creative minds.

Tharp’s impressively rich career has spanned decades and made her known worldwide. According to Tharp’s personal biography, she’s choreographed “more than one hundred sixty works: one hundred twenty-nine dances, twelve television specials, six Hollywood movies, four full-length ballets, four Broadway shows and two figure skating routines.” She’s also “received one Tony® Award, two Emmy® Awards, nineteen honorary doctorates, the Vietnam Veterans of America President's Award, the 2004 National Medal of the Arts, the 2008 Jerome Robbins Prize, and a 2008 Kennedy Center Honor.”

Twyla Tharp and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Photo credit: Annie Leibowitz 

Most recently on Broadway, Tharp’s work has been seen in 2010’s Come Fly Away. She built the movement for Broadway’s 2006 production of The Times They Are A Changin’, the 2002 hit Movin’ Out, and the stage debut of Singin’ In The Rain in 1985.  Her work has also made its way to well-known dance companies around the globe like The Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, The Paris Opera Ballet, The Royal Ballet, The Boston Ballet, The Australian Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, The Martha Graham Dance Company, Miami City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Atlanta Ballet and Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

Tharp has also written a number of books, including Push Comes To Shove, The Creative Habit, The Collaborative Habit, The Youth Habit, and her recent release, Forward: Make Next Year Your Best Year, which premiered last month.

For tickets, information and more on the run of Minimalism And Me, visit The Joyce’s website, here.

Michael Mahany serves as the New York City Correspondent for Dance Network. He is also a professional actor, musician, dancer, and writer. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, or click here to find out more. 

Keep Reading