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Sara Rudner on Dancing with Twyla Tharp

Sara Rudner on Dancing with Twyla Tharp

By Sara Rudner

Published on November 17, 2015
Photo by Nat Tileston

Learning from a Master

Dancer and choreographer Sara Rudner shares her experience of dancing with the venerable Twyla Tharp as the acclaimed dancemaker and her company celebrates their 50th anniversary. For information on Twyla Tharp's upcoming performances on November 17-22 go to The David H. Koch Theater website. 

THE THARP EXPERIENCE began for me in 1963 although I did not meet Twyla for another two years. We were both studying at Barnard College where, as a junior, I saw Twyla’s name among those in the graduating class. No picture, just a name, and a singular one at that. Amidst the Sandys, Judys, Lindas, Barbaras and Susans a “Twyla” was a stand out; and so she was, and so she remains. The name became a person, then a practice, and ultimately the seminal experience in my dancing life. I am not sure how, or even if, I would be dancing today if our paths had not crossed.

In 1965, I rented a $35.10 apartment in the same building on Broome Street where Margaret (Margy) Jenkins lived, and Margy was dancing with Twyla. Twyla needed another dancer and Margy said that she knew someone. She brought Twyla to see a performance in which I was an emergency understudy having learned the part that day; Twyla stood in the back of the little theater, left immediately, but not before telling Margy, “She’ll do.”   And so I “did” from then through the early ‘80s, with a two and a half year hiatus to begin my own explorations in making and presenting dance.    

Studio time with Twyla was an education in how to work, how to persevere and how to honor whomever was in the room. From the mid-sixties onward the speed and depth of exploration was locomotive.  My mind/body, and those of the other dancers, was in a constant state of deep learning. I danced with, learned from, and socialized with Twyla, the mastermind, Margy, Theresa Dickinson, Margery Tupling, Sheela Raj, Graciela Figueroa and Rose Marie Wright (the original Tharp Company) as we realized Twyla’s earliest visions. Daily rehearsals and rare performances were the name of the game, most were uncompensated, but not for long. As soon as possible Twyla managed to support those of us who had not already gone west, east and south to either seek love and/or avoid deportation; Rose Marie and I remained, but before long subtraction was followed by addition, and Kenneth Rinker, Isabel Garcia-Lorca, Nina Weiner, and Tom Rawe, and many, many others, joined the party. Each person added new spice and the work grew as the challenges continued.  

To this day, dancers who enter Twyla’s studio, wherever it might be, experience the same ferocity, rigor, energy and dedication I encountered.   There are a few souls who love dance and dancers more than Twyla Tharp. Her obsession is equaled by her brilliance and the results are there for anyone to see.

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