Twyla Tharp on the Process of Discovery

“The business of being static makes me nuts,” the choreographer Twyla Tharp told the Academy of Achievement.

Her interest is not in repetition (“I’m not very good at it,” she says), but in discovery. To wit:

In the ’70s, when ballet was ballet, modern was modern, and dance forms kept in their lanes, she came along and choreographed a piece for the Joffrey Ballet set to the Beach Boys.

Or there was the time she put Mikhail Baryshnikov in a bowler hat, gave him movements that curved in and around genres, and created a piece Time called “the most important dance event of the year.”

Then there were the dances she created for the movies Hair and Amadeus, plus the Tony she won for Movin’ Out, the Broadway hit she choreographed to Billy Joel songs.

Ms. Tharp works in the business of discovery. Which, she says, is a messy, confusing business. “The moments of discovery do come from a place that is not totally organized.”

They come from futzing in the dance studio. From taking what she knows about how the body moves and pushing it to another place. From predictably showing up each morning to creative exploration that is unpredictable. And filled with unknowns and disorder.

But, the choreographer says frankly, “order is something that we already know about. Discoveries are in a place we don’t already know about.”

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