Instructor: Purnima Shah
Analysis of Twyla Tharp’s Eight Jelly Rolls
Twyla Tharp has influenced the field of American postmodern dance for over four decades. Her work and philosophy has had a continuing impact on the growth and development of dance by consistently delivering a unique approach, independent of the traditional techniques of modern and the antitechnical works of the avant-garde. She used the strong technique gained by ballet training to bring forth broken pirouettes and contorted bodies. She used rhythmic music to create movement that disagreed with the natural flow of the music.
This paper surveys the creative process behind Twyla ...view middle of the document...
As a young child Tharp was granted exposure to a variety of dance styles and additional skills. Among them were piano, violin, viola, elocution, painting, baton twirling, and of course dance lessons (Siegel, 2006). The upshot of these experiences is a noteworthy, theoretical and practical knowledge of music (Mazo, 2000). Her experience with each of these skill sets proved to be an asset to her work, as she incorporates each of her experiences in her pieces throughout the years.
Tharp studied every dance philosophy available to her. She had the opportunity to work with Martha Graham, Alwin Nikolais and Merce Cunningham. She studied ballet with Margaret Craske, Richard Thomas, Barbara Farris, Erick Hawkins and Igor Schwezoff. She also took classes in jazz technique. Her studies made her extremely well versed in the field of dance. After graduating from college in the early sixties she immediately began her career as a dancer in Paul Taylor’s dance company. She was given much responsibility within the company but soon concluded that her work with Taylor was in a sense stifling and too abstract for her taste (Siegel, 2006). She worked with Taylor for two solid years before realizing that she needed to explore dance on her own. Her exploration of dance was a slow and steady process.
Her dance career truly began with her first piece titled, Tank Dive (1965). Tank Dive, first performed in 1965 at Hunter College in New York City, initiated her plunge into the realm of postmodern dance. In Tank Dive Tharp performs movements wearing high heeled bedroom slippers and then changes into wooden shoes with rigid, flipper-like extensions in front (Bremser, 1999). The wooden shoes kept her confined to one spot but allowed her upper body to move freely within the established limitations. She then removed the shoes and finished off the piece barefoot, finally ending the piece was a toss of her body to the floor, face downwards. She then exits the stage. Tank Dive was an abstract piece, leaving many questions and no answers. The viewers were left searching for meaning out of the piece she had presented. This was Tharp’s intention. Her avant-garde approach to the discipline was evident in her costume choice, lack of music, the special design of the stage and the abstract level at which she performed. Though Tharp was performing was taking a traditional avant-garde approach to dance in the footsteps of her predecessors, her efforts did not grant her fame and stardom. Her audiences were not impressed with her work leaving her to feel inadequate. Her work was missing something that the audience truly desired. Tharp would need to find a way to incorporate as much of her dance philosophies as possible while appealing to an audience or the success that she dreamed of would never come her way. Six years later, she found an answer. The answer laid in the piece Eight Jelly Rolls. As her first piece choreographed to music, Tharp discovered a clean cut method of appealing...