Exploring Movement With a Vengeance

Twyla Tharp Dance
See Chicago Dance

Gutsy, brash, and intent on standing convention on its ear, Twyla Tharp started her illustrious career as a choreographer in 1965 with "Tank Dive," a full 7 minutes of dance as minimal as movement gets, standing in second position relevé for the entirety of the pop song, "Downtown."

This past Friday night, Tharp stood behind a podium on the Museum of Contemporary Art stage, impish in her slouchy jeans and sneakers, characteristic oversized glasses halfway down her nose and shaggy mop of now white hair, and launched into "Minimalism and Me."

Commissioned by the MCA and premiering this past Thursday through Sunday, "Twyla Tharp: Minimalism and Me" is Tharp's account of her early forays into the art of making dances, learning what it meant to be an artist from minimalist painters like Barnett Newman, Frank Stella, and Agnes Martin, whose studios dotted the Greenwich Village neighborhood where she took up residence in a fifth-floor walk-up after graduating from Barnard.

Venerated as one of the most significant dance innovators of her time, Tharp looks back to her earliest influences with the self-effacing humor of one whose perspective takes in a period in American art, literature, and dance that encompassed minimalism, conceptual art, and post-minimalism.

Using five of her company members to illustrate excerpts of works created from 1965-70, Tharp's running commentary provides a context for understanding what she was trying to do, and which elements continue to drive her process today. In addition, her first-hand account of a pivotal moment in modern dance history lets us see where she eventually split off from from the Judson Church group that included avant-garde choreographers like Meredith Monk, Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown, and David Gordon.

Tharp created "Re-moves" for inclusion in a multi-choreographer show at Judson in 1966. The point of "Re-moves," she said, was "to repeat over and over and over. A dry concept!" Minimalism meant using walking and rolling on the floor, close enough to the brush the shoes of the famous dance critic Clive Barnes sitting in the corner. "It was shameless," she quipped, describing the work as "less is more on steroids."

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