On July 1, 1941, Lecile Tharp named her newborn daughter “Twyla” with the vision of those five letters shining brightly on a marquee someday in the future. Lecile even wrote “she’ll grow up to be famous,” on the announcement.
Seventy-eight years later, having catalyzed the modernization and development of dance, Twyla has done much more than just “grown up to be famous.”
Despite her reputation for being rebellious, Twyla recounts a childhood of habit and discipline in her autobiography.
She describes how each day was strictly regimented: “I wake up at 5:30 a.m., put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st Street and First Avenue, where I work out for two hours.”
Twyla believes that this strictness, which she still implements in adulthood, is the heart of true rebellion.
“Rebellion, like creativity, doesn’t just fly off the walls. It’s pretty well studied and thought-through. Without the structure, there’s sloppiness, carelessness, forgetfulness. Waste,” She told the Washington Post.
This respect of knowing the rules before you break them is prominently reflected in her choreography. Twyla emphasizes that ballet and modern dance shouldn’t have such a defined distinction and lack of crossover. Just as living a strict life allows her to be creative, her choreography often showcases innovative movement and rebellious concepts layered on top of a foundation of classical technique.
Twyla’s lack of fear to blend genres and mix mediums of dance allows her to create pieces with multi-faceted movements and vast dimensions.
“A classical ballet goes from A to Z, but this one (Twyla’s choreography) goes from A to Z and back to A in probably 10 or 12 different languages,” Dancer Steven McRae said.
The dancers seem to love the challenge that Twyla’s choreography presents just as much as audiences love the excitement.
Rika Okamoto, a dancer for Twyla’s company since 1993 described the movement as: “a lot of classical ballet footwork while fluidly moving the torso like a boxer. When you naturally want to move one way, she wants you to move the opposite way. The body fights it, but once you get the technique, it becomes a joy and you get hooked.”
However, what is perhaps most inspiring about Twyla is her versatility as a choreographer and innovator. She is one of few choreographers that can create amazing pieces in almost any genre.
From ballets at Lincoln Center, to shows on Broadway, or even movies in Hollywood, Twyla manages to redefine the expectation of what dance is and create a new standard for what it is becoming.
It’s time for the rest of us to go from A to Z and back to A in 12 different languages, or as Twyla herself once said, fear a lack of change more than change itself.