Things We Learned About Twyla Tharp
Insider info from PNB’s Peter Boal
1. The celebrated choreographer was in Seattle this spring and summer as an artist in residence with Pacific Northwest Ballet—the first of its kind for PNB.
2. Twyla Tharp and PNB artistic director Peter Boal go back—way back—to 1984, when Boal was a teenage rookie at New York City Ballet and Tharp was a guest choreographer collaborating with Jerome Robbins. “We just kind of clicked,” said Boal.
3. Even when a prize pupil like Boal asks (repeatedly, nicely) for Tharp to come on as an artist in residence, Tharp says no. A lot. But Boal can be persuasive. “Finally she cracked one day.”
4. Under Boal’s watch, PNB has added six dances by Tharp to its repertory, including Brief Fling and Nine Sinatra Songs, both on the all-Tharp program this fall (Sept 27–Oct 6).
5. September’s world premiere of Waiting at the Station, featuring New Orleans R&B legend Allen Toussaint with the PNB Orchestra, brings the total of Tharp works in PNB’s rep to seven.
6. Live music can make Twyla nervous—recorded music is just so much more predictable. Wouldn’t you know it: Allen Toussaint is an improvisational musician. Hang on tight.
7. Brief Fling was created for American Ballet Theater in 1990 but is new to PNB. “It has a Scottish lean to it. You’ll see a lot of dancers in tam-o’-shanters and kilts. The music goes back and forth from traditional Scottish to contemporary. It’s a small cast, but it feels big—about 16 dancers in total… It packs a punch. It’s technically very challenging for the dancers, particularly the principal couple. Just a lot of tricky jumps for the guy and pointe work for the woman.”
8. The ever-popular Nine Sinatra Songs is more about social dancing. It made its PNB premiere in 2006 during Boal’s first season as artistic director.
9. Tharp’s dance vocabulary is “steeped in technique,” said Boal, “and yet there’s a very human element to it. There’s boxing, there’s jogging, there’s aerobics…some real jazz elements and two-step elements.”
10. At age 72, Twyla’s still a trendsetter. She actually choreographed the dancers to mime texting while en pointe. “She’s like, ‘Somebody had to do it first, so it might as well be me,’ ” said Boal. “I think we scrapped that, but it was still fun.”
11. She’s handy with video too. “Every rehearsal is filmed, and then the editing is quite extensive. Before she even arrived in Seattle, she worked out material herself. She danced in front of the camera in her room alone. She did almost everybody’s part, so you’ll be watching the video—and I’m not sure how she does this; I think she has a GoPro [camera]—and suddenly there’s a chorus of eight Twylas coming out. Then two other Twylas will come forward. One’s the man, one’s the woman, and they’ll do a duet. The fact that we could see the whole ballet—all Twyla—was really cool.”
12. Don’t mess with Tharp. “She knows her stuff. She’s meticulous,” said Boal. “She knows her accents, her music.”
13. She’s also a weight lifter and kickboxer. Point taken. —LD
Sept 27–Oct 6, Pacific Northwest Ballet, McCaw Hall, pnb.org