Twyla Tharp is writing about rehearsing, touring and creating new work, 50 years after her first dance concert.
Here’s the cast on Saturday, on the advent of leaving New York rehearsals for the kick off of our 10-week 50th Anniversary tour in Dallas. This is probably a more user friendly photo than the one below, which I took two hours earlier.
This photo of the company in our last studio showing for an audience is not a gorgeous one. But it is of interest to me because it traces the dancers through 10 seconds of the fanfare that begins our program. Follow the dancer wearing the blue calf support or the girl with the maroon shirt. You will see the path they cover in 10 seconds. And around them you see the entire group traversing the space in this time. Less than a week from now, on Sept. 18, this passage will announce a new company to the world in Dallas.
What makes a company? It is, like a good performance, greater than the sum of its parts. It brings together a wealth of experiences and commitments that create a single foundation. Tacitly expressed in the dancing is a guarantee to the audience that whatever goes down, there’s no need for panic because onstage we have your back. It is a group that is solid, with history and a shared mandate. Recently we have heard from viewers invited to the studio to watch run throughs, “It is beginning to feel like a company.” This is a very good thing and reflects a year and a half of work.
During this time I have developed an isometric class called Treefrog to implement the dancers’ training and ground them in a standard technique. All the company’s dancers can use some Treefrog in their pre-curtain warm-up and also for the master classes they will be teaching throughout the tour. A new piece of repertory not being shown on this tour, set to the late Beethoven quartet Opus 133, was made for this group in order to remind us all that there is a future for us as a company after this tour. We also are doing an early work from 1970, “The One Hundreds,” in several of the communities we will be visiting, a dance that allows 100 regular civilians to dance with the company. “The One Hundreds” is the 26th dance chronologically on my website. The two new dances on the tour, “Preludes and Fugues” and “Yowzie,” will be joining the repertory as numbers 158 and 159. All this supplementary work helps form a platform from which to launch our Sept. 18 premiere.
Creating a company also takes input from me beyond the usual job profile of choreographer. These last weeks I have delivered no new steps — no one has time for that now — and I have shifted over to other company duties. Now, I’m the director, producer, rehearsal assistant and community outreach supervisor, making sure, even, that studio guests are well greeted when they arrive for a showing.
As director, I continue giving notes to the performers after run throughs and studio showings, reminding them of the works’ original intention when they stray into mannerisms, but also watching for valuable new options in the dancers’ delivery as they become more familiar with their material. In Dallas, and under lights and in costumes and makeup, the dancers’ energies will have to be adjusted once again to address the distancing effect that putting a dance onstage has on its audience.
As producer I follow the preparations in wardrobe, scenics, sound and lighting, all the things that we hope will make a world beyond the studio. As rehearsal assistant, I monitor the dancers’ physical well-being and schedule rehearsal time for our male alternate, Eric Otto. The women are covering all the roles from the inside. Every dancer has made a pledge not to go down during this tour, for injury is one of the biggest challenges we face on the road. The tour is a long one and as our budget requires careful economies, the discipline required of each dancer is great. Every one of us is solely responsible for his or her own well-being. It’s as though LeBron James had to play his games without the support staff and traveling coach.
I am also, these days, my own trainer, because I can’t afford the time to go across town to the gym where I have worked with the same trainer, Sean Kelleher, for more than 20 years. I still work myself at least an hour and at best 90 minutes daily, first thing in the morning. I have a small studio space in my house, a postage stamp, I think of it, and here every day I try to speak with my body: crunches, push-ups, tendus, a few battements. Today I have a cranky shoulder left over from yesterday because I have been determined to fold a free-standing handstand into my routine. But a handstand does not really substitute for a half-hour of weight training.
And then there is writing this blog, which reflects my continuing concern to help people understand exactly what it is I do and why dance is important, very important — to them and as an art in our culture. Human movement is the basis of all art. No movement? Then no writing, no music, no painting. So why is dance at the bottom of the heap? Get with the program, I say.
Nonetheless, the blog takes its bite out of my day for I struggle with the abstract and the concrete, with what to include and what to delete. But look at it this way — my dances have absorbed millions of words. And they are silent. So any language I eke out is against my better judgment. Of course much of my thinking is in images and, yes, every picture for me holds thousands of fairly arbitrary adjectives and adverbs. Which brings me to photography, where I find a truth that language must work hard to approach.
Richard Avedon was a very good friend for a very long time. He contributed enormous support to my company with over 20 sessions for publicity and posterity that he underwrote. One time I asked him where I could get a camera and he sent me to B & H. Much to his consternation, I came back with a beautiful Hasselblad — serious overkill, Dick thought, for my level of accomplishment — and a Polaroid. Nonetheless, I loved pasting together the Polaroids I got into long strings of frozen time, space and movement. Now the cellphone makes it possible for me to create many rooms and time zones in one panorama shot. But while I don’t expect to be challenging Dick’s Rolleiflex images any time soon, it is his eye that guided the creation of our tour’s iconic image. Thank you, Dick.
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