Twyla Tharp
Twyla Tharp. Photo by Richard Avedon courtesy of The Richard Avedon Foundation.

By Jane Vranish

Point Park University was once noted mostly for its commercial and Broadway dance, although it also offered modern and ballet, along with a jazz major. That emphasis has evolved, along with dance itself, to such an extent that Point Park graduates are now noted for their technical and artistic versatility in all three areas. It’s a reason why the upcoming Spring Dance Concert, featuring a trio of modern masters, has a special significance, for it spotlights a variety of artists who have made individual and important contributions to the art.

Yet they share a surprising link.

The angular, jazz-hands style of eight-time Tony winner Bob Fosse, whose Broadway popularity is without question — a new version of his Tony Award-winning Dancin’ (1978) just opened — will be represented by Two Lost Souls. Known as the moody duet from Damn Yankees, it also expands into a rare reconstruction of his slinky ensemble work. Point Park University faculty member Susan Stowe will contribute a strictly classical piece, Paquita (1876), a collection of variations from pre-Balanchine choreographic star, Marius Petipa. The baby of the bunch, a 43-year-old dynamo with deep African roots and a MacArthur Genius Award, Camille A. Brown brings a socially astute

New Second Line (2018). It is inspired by events caused by Hurricane Katrina, yet celebrates the New Orleans culture and the perseverance of its residents in the midst of destruction.

They seem disparate enough, but all three have found their way to find success on Broadway — Fosse, of course, and multiple Tony nominee Brown. But the third member of the group, Twyla Tharp, has combined functionality and creativity in a way that is distinctly different. Audiences will see Sweet Fields (1996), which was inspired by Quaker influences in her early life. They will also have an opportunity to hear her talk about her career in an An Evening with Twyla Tharp at

7 p.m. on Sunday, April 23. Get tickets.

Certainly one of the most heralded choreographers of her generation, much has been written about Tharp. To our delight, she periodically has been part of the Pittsburgh dance scene. We first saw her company, Twyla Tharp Dance, in 1983 on the Pittsburgh Dance Council series. It was a program that

included the ageless Eight Jelly Rolls (to tunes by Jelly Roll Morton), Sinatra Songs and Bad Smells, which featured a live camera operator projecting the dancers larger than life on the screen behind them. I would not see anything remotely like that for years, but then, Tharp was ahead of her time, a dance explorer who unabashedly pushed the boundaries. A celebrity in her own right, she returned to perform with ballet superstar Mikhail Baryshnikov and new incarnations of her company. Subsequently, several of her works were presented by Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, including In the Upper Room, Junk Duet and, yes, Sinatra Songs (twice).

Like Fosse and Brown, we saw her transition to Broadway with the national tour of Movin’ Out, set to songs by Billy Joel. In an interview with Tharp, I was able to say that Movin’ Out outsold The Lion King tour on its opening day of ticket sales. She was elated, which set her off on a thread about respect for dancers and her desire to elevate their salaries.

It’s a no-nonsense approach that has served her well, whether in choreography, directing or writing. Driven to a fault, she didn’t wait for my questions after I drove to Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. to interview her for a Dance Council appearance. We met backstage, where she turned the tables and immediately asked me how I liked the program. No other artist had ever done that, but then, Tharp is like no other.

Her passion, drive and commitment to dance are legendary. That has birthed a career that has both bedazzled and befuddled, but never has been dull.

And she still keeps moving.

To celebrate her 80th birthday (she is now 81), she put together a program of duets, Twyla Tharp Now, at New York’s City Center. (It included a new piece for James Gilmore, Pittsburgh native, and Jacqueline Green of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.) Local fans can watch the PBS film, Twyla

Moves, currently available on WQED.

But Tharp also best symbolizes the Point Park dance philosophy, blending ballet, modern and jazz in a seamless fashion. This will be a match made in heaven. 

Get tickets.

See her choreography.

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