Movement precedes music |

Movement precedes music

Wren Wertin

Tharp is one of a handful of women who head dance companies. This particular company is two years old, and is only the latest in a long and intricate string of achievements by the choreographer and director.

Tharp was on the scene of then-experimental modern dance in the ’60s. By 1965 she had created her first company, which eventually merged with the American Ballet Theatre.

Instead of alienating classical ballet, Twarp used it, incorporated it. But she didn’t accept its traditional definition, born of more than a century of performance. Instead, she interwove the idioms of ballet and modern dance. The result is unmistakably Tharp.

Today’s performance, all works choreographed by Tharp, include music by Mark O’Connor (“Call of the Mockingbird”) and Johann Strauss (“Kaiserwalzer Opus 437”). The program will end with one of her most recent signature pieces, premiered at the American Dance Festival in the summer of 2000, “Surfer at the River Styx,” composed by Donalk Knaack.

Dancer Emily Coates began working with Tharp in 2001. She loves the program because each piece is so different.

“It’s very challenging in its movement, very athletic,” she said.

Coates feels Tharp’s attention to detail sets her apart from other choroegraphers, as does her attention to the dancers as individuals, not merely vehicles.

“She has a great deal of respect for all of us, and incredibly high standards,” she said. “You want to meet that standard, so you find yourself doing more than you ever thought you could do. It’s pretty special for a dancer.”

Instead of confining her work to the dance world, Tharp stretched into Broadway, Hollywood and television. “Singin’ in the Rain” is one of the three Broadway shows she choreographed, which played at the Gershwin for 367 performances. The films “Hair,” “Ragtime,” “Amadeus” and “White Nights” all bear her mark, as well.

Though Twarp still is dedicated to daily workouts and exercises, she’s not the dancer she once was. Yet she doesn’t have to be, when she can envision it and teach it. She takes inspiration from Beethoven, who continued to compose music after he was deaf.

“He was a virtuoso at the piano,” she said in an interview with the New York Times. “And although he couldn’t hear the music, he was unbelievably physical in his conducting. Movement precedes music. And his moving through daily life motivated the music.”

Movement is everything.

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.

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