Neither the pandemic nor age can keep legendary choreographer Twyla Tharp from her work. During the height of the COVID-19 lockdown, Tharp, now 79, choreographed several dances through Zoom. One was with four dancers—each of whom was in a different time zone.
"One dancer was in New York at noon. One dancer was on the West Coast before breakfast. One dancer was in Denmark five hours ahead, and one dancer was in St. Petersburg working through their dinner hour," Tharp says. "Nothing was capable of keeping us from having community. And that's what dance can give—dance can give community."
It's not the first time Tharp has worked in unusual conditions. In the 1960s, Tharp and her company of dancers performed in parks and malls, and on subway platforms and rooftops. "If it was kind of level, it was fair territory," she says.
Tharp went on to choreograph for Mikhail Baryshnikov, the Joffrey Ballet, the Royal Ballet, the New York City Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre. She's also collaborated with David Byrne and Billy Joel on Broadway shows.
Tharp is known for mixing ballet with other styles of dance: "I had always felt that one dancer should be able to dance across the line," she says. "That is to say: When I started working in New York, you were either modern dancer, or you were a ballet dancer. I thought that was ridiculous, because I could be both a ballet dancer and a modern dancer, so shouldn't everybody else be able to do that?"