Twyla Tharp

Twyla Tharp

Born (1941-07-01) July 1, 1941
Portland, Indiana, U.S.
Occupation Choreographer, dancer
Years active 1960s–present

Twyla Tharp (/ˈtwlə θɑːrp/; born July 1, 1941) is an American dancer, choreographer, and author who lives and works in New York City. In 1966, she formed her own company Twyla Tharp Dance. 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 to be 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 the crossover ballet.

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


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 in Indiana.

As a young 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.[2] 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.[3] She attended Pacific High School in San Bernardino and studied at the Vera Lynn School of Dance. Tharp, a "devoted bookworm",[4] admits that her schedule left little time for a social life.[5] Tharp 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. It was in New York that she studied with Richard Thomas, Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham.[6] In 1963 Tharp joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company.

Dances and ballets

In 1965, Tharp choreographed her first dance Tank Dive.[7] In 1966, she formed her own company, Twyla Tharp Dance. 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 to be 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 the crossover ballet.

In 1988, Twyla Tharp Dance merged with American Ballet Theatre, since which time ABT has held the world premieres of 16 of Tharp's works. In 2010, they had a total of 20 of her works in their 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. Tharp also created the dance roadshow Cutting Up (1991) with Mikhail Baryshnikov, which went on to tour and appeared in 28 cities over two months.

In the summer of 2000, Twyla Tharp Dance regrouped with entirely new dancers. This Tharp dance company also performed around the world. It was with this company that Tharp developed the material that would go on to become Movin' Out, an award winning Broadway musical featuring the songs of Billy Joel and starring many of the dancers who were in the dance company.

In 2012, Tharp created the full-length ballet The Princess and the Goblin.[8] The ballet is based on George MacDonald's story The Princess and the Goblin and is Tharp's first to include children. The narrative ballet 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 new work with music by R&B artist Allen Toussaint and sets & costumes by long-time collaborator Santo Loquasto.


Tharp in 1981

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 had its soundtrack released on LP.

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

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

Tharp opened a new show titled 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).[9] It was also the first time a show received a second extension before the first preview. After this record setting 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.[10] Renamed Come Fly Away, the show opened on Broadway in 2010 at the Marquis Theatre in New York 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, Georgia, 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; The Collaborative Habit (2009, Simon & Schuster), also translated into Thai, Chinese and Korean. As an interesting point, Ms. 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, in fact, an etymological underpinning of cybernetics' tradition of "guiding a boat" by sighting stellar references in a dynamic and synthetic way 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
  • 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





Honors and awards

Twyla Tharp 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 the John D. and Catherine T. 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 the 2002 musical Movin' Out. She received a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Choreography for the musical Singin' in the Rain.

She was named a Kennedy Center Honoree for 2008.[11]

Tharp was inducted into the Academy of Achievement in 1993.[12]

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.[13]

Awards by year


  • Walter Gutman


  • George Irwin
  • The Lepercq Foundation


  • Foundation for the Contemporary Performing Arts, 1970
  • Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, John S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation
  • The Emma A. Sheafer Trust, 1970–1981, 1985


  • John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, 1971, 1974
  • National Endowment for the Arts Choreographers Fellowship, 1971, 1973
  • New York State Council on the Arts Annual Support, 1971–1986


  • Brandeis University, Creative Arts Citation


  • National Endowment for the Arts Annual Support, 1973–1986


  • Creative Artists Public Service Program
  • Edward John Nobel Foundation
  • New York Public Library Dance Collection
  • The Place Trust, London
  • The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, 1974–1978, 1982, 1983, 1986


  • Eight Jelly Rolls, 1st in Festival in Video and Modern Dance Video Certificate of Honor
  • Making Television Dance, Modern Dance Video Certificate of Merit


  • Mademoiselle Magazine, Mademoiselle Magazine Award
  • Exxon Corporation, 1976, 1980, 1982–1984, 1986


  • The Green Fund, 1977, 1980, 1981
  • National Endowment for the Arts Challenge Grant, 1977, 1985
  • The Shubert Foundation, 1977, 1978, 1980–1986


  • Dance Film Association, 7th Annual Dance Video and Film Festival
  • Honorary Degree, California Institute of the Arts
  • Silver Satellite Award for Making Television Dance, American Women in Radio & Television
  • The Ford Foundation, 1978, 1980
  • The Ford Motor Company, 1978–1985
  • The Surdna Foundation, 1978, 1980, 1985


  • Soho Arts Second Annual Awards, The Soho Weekly News
  • Honorary Degree, Bucknell University
  • The Scherman Foundation, 1979, 1980, 1982–1985
  • United Artists
  • The David Merrick Arts Foundation
  • Mobil Foundation, Inc., 1979, 1981–1986


  • Honorary Degree, Bates College
  • Dance Educators of America Award for Making Television Dance
  • Screening and Red Ribbon Award for Making Television Dance
  • The Booth Ferris Foundation
  • Chase Manhattan Bank, 1980–1982
  • Con Ed, 1980–1985
  • Morgan Guarantee Trust, 1980–1981, 1983–1984, 1986
  • The Jerome Robbins Foundation, 1980, 1983


  • Film Library Association American Film Festival
  • Honorary Degree, Bard College
  • Honorary Degree, Brown University
  • Dance Magazine Award, Dance Magazine
  • Dance Film Award for Making Television Dance, Chicago International Film Festival
  • Indiana Arts Award, Indiana Arts Commission
  • Citibank, 1981–1986
  • Doll Foundation, 1981–1986
  • Weil Foundation
  • Norman and Rosita Winston Foundation
  • Rockefeller Foundation


  • Medal of Distinction, Barnard College
  • Chemical Bank, 1982–1986
  • National Corporate Fund for Dance, 1982–1985
  • Robert Sterling Clark Foundation
  • Ida and William Rosenthal Foundation, 1982, 1986
  • New York Telephone, 1982–1985


  • Spirit of Achievement Award, Albert Einstein College of Medicine
  • Honorary Degree, Williams College
  • Indiana Arts Award, Indiana Arts Commission
  • The Thorne Foundation
  • Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, 1983–1984, 1986
  • C.L. Glazer Trust
  • The Klingenstein Fund
  • Warner Communications


  • Mayor's Award of Honor for Arts and Culture, Edward I. Koch, New York City
  • Dance Masters of America 1984 Choreographer's Award
  • Arthur Andersen and Company, 1984–1986
  • Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission
  • Booth Ferris Foundation
  • Brooklyn Union and Gas
  • Merrill Lynch, 1984, 1986
  • New York Times Company Foundation, 1984–1986


  • Emmy Awards for Baryshnikov by Tharp choreography and co-direction, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences
  • Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement for Baryshnikov by Tharp
  • Indiana Arts Award, Indiana Arts Commission
  • APA Trucking
  • The Charles Engelhard Foundation
  • Corporate Property Investors
  • Hausman Belding Foundation
  • Gerald D. Hines Interests
  • GFI/Knoll International
  • NBC, 1985–1986
  • Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation, 1985, 1986
  • Zayre Corporation


  • University Medal of Excellence, Columbia University
  • Bankers Trust
  • Cadillac Fairview
  • MCA
  • Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company
  • Ridgewood Energy Corporation


  • Honorary Degree, Indiana University
  • Honorary Degree, Pomona College
  • Golden Plate Award, American Academy of Achievement


  • Honorary Degree, Hamilton College
  • Honorary Degree, Skidmore College


  • Honorary Degree, Marymount Manhattan College
  • Lions of the Performing Arts Award, New York Public Library


  • Samuel M. Scripps Award, American Dance Festival


  • Laurence Olivier Award for In the Upper Room, Laurence Olivier Foundation
  • Wexner Foundation Award, The Ohio State University Wexner Center for the Arts


  • MacArthur Fellowship, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
  • Ruth Page Visiting Arts, Harvard University, 1992–1993


  • Golden Plate Award, American Academy of Achievement
  • Woman of Achievement, Barnard College
  • Inducted, American Academy of Arts and Sciences


  • Arts Award, Dickinson College
  • Honorary Degree, Ball State University
  • Distinguished Artist Award, International Society For The Performing Arts


  • American Honorary Member, American Academy of Arts and Letters


  • Trust for Mutual Understanding


  • MOCA Award to Distinguished Women In The Arts, Museum Of Contemporary Art


  • The Doris Duke Awards for New Work


  • Women’s Project & Productions Exceptional Achievement Award


  • New York Awards Lifetime Achievement


  • Drama Desk Award Outstanding Choreography: Movin' Out
  • Tony Award Best Choreography: Movin' Out
  • Drama League Outstanding Achievement Award for Musical Theatre
  • TDF/Astaire Award Best Choreographer: Movin' Out
  • Indiana Living Legend, Indiana Historical Society
  • Glamour Woman of the Year Award
  • Outstanding Contribution to the Arts Award North Carolina School of the Arts
  • Honorary Doctorate, North Carolina School of the Arts


  • National Medal of Arts
  • Vietnam Veterans of America President’s Award for Excellence in the Arts
  • Independent Reviewers of New England Award Best Choreography: Movin' Out. Broadway in Boston
  • Goddard Space Flight Center’s Center Director’s Colloquium Citation for Enlightening, Creative and Thought-Provoking Presentation


  • Best Choreography: Movin' Out. Touring Broadway Awards
  • Jane Addams Medal for Distinguished Service presented by Rockford College


  • Princess Grace Award – Outstanding Artistry
  • Critics Circle Dance Award Outstanding Choreography: Movin' Out. London


  • Honorary Degree, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
  • Honorary Degree, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ
  • Touring Broadway Award: Best Choreography for a touring show for Movin' Out


  • The Jerome Robbins Prize
  • The Kennedy Center Honors
  • Woman of the Year Award, presented by Nevada State Ballet


  • U.S. News & World Report: listed on "America's Best Leaders"
  • Leadership at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government


  • The IAL Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts, presented by Columbia University's The Varsity Show
  • The Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Choreographer: Come Fly Away
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by The American Academy of Hospitality Sciences
  • Suzi Bass Award for Best Choreography: "Come Fly With Me"
  • Rolex Dance Award


  • The Vasterling Award, Presented by Nashville Ballet
  • Honorary Degree, The Juilliard School, New York, NY
  • TITAS Award for Contributions to the Arts
  • Woman of Achievement Award, Meredith College
  • Spotlight Award, Presented by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago


  • Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by Tribeca Film Festival


  • 62nd Capezio Dance Award
  • Honorary Degree, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA

Personal life

Tharp has a son and a grandson.[14]



  1. "Twyla Tharp". Retrieved 2015-10-30.
  2. 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.
  3. Adams, John Anthony (2004). Rialto. Images Of America. Arcadia Publishing. p. 85. ISBN 0-7385-2892-7. Retrieved July 23, 2008.
  4. "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.
  5. "Interview: Twyla Tharp Dancer and Choreographer". Academy of Achievement. 2007. p. 3. Retrieved August 13, 2008.
  6. Craine, Debra and Judith Mackrell. (2010). The Oxford Dictionary of Dance, p. 450.
  7. Kourlas, Gia (4 April 2015). "Twyla Tharp's 50 Years of Forward Movement". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 April 2015.
  8. Seibert, Brian (12 February 2012). "Toe Shoes That Carry a Princess to Victory". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 March 2012.
  9. Marketing Statement from The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego
  10. Marketing Statement from Alliance Theater
  11. Andrew Gans (9 September 2008). "Streisand, Freeman, Tharp, Jones, Townshend and Daltrey Are 2008 Kennedy Center Honorees". Playbill. Retrieved February 16, 2009.
  12. "Twyla Tharp Biography". Academy of Achievement. 2007. Retrieved September 30, 2008.
  13. 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.
  14. Kourlas, Gia (3 February 2012). "Tharp's New Tale, Woven In Dance". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 March 2012.


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