The Magazine

Modern Dancer

The world according to Tharp.

Jul 24, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 42 • By JUDITH GELERNTER
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The respect between Tharp and her dancers overturns accusations of egoism. The choreographer, even in her early twenties, led a group of dancers of the same age. Some musical ensembles work in a similar way--one writing works that all perform together--but dancers don't read from a score. Teaching parts to dancers requires the human factors of rapport, respect, and a degree of distance. Whatever it takes, Tharp seems to have gotten it right, and the evidence in most cases has been strong loyalty between her and her dancers.

Nor is she egoistic about her choreography. She gives her dancers the artistic freedom to adapt her moves to their bodies: "Tharp was offering her dancers a challenge and an opportunity. For her that meant offering them love," writes Siegel. She has also been responsible financially. In 1972 she won an award for younger artists. In a public show of respect, she divided the thousand-dollar prize into two checks, and gave them to her two dancers during the award ceremony. More important, she tries to pay dancers what they deserve, and endures a busy touring schedule, even though it cuts into her creative time.

Why do such character strengths seem buried in Siegel's narrative? Why were unattractive photographs selected for the cover portrait and back cover shots, and within its plates, when the choreographer is, in fact, beautiful? Sadly, omission of the personal good and emphasis on the bad is a pattern in this book. Recall the title, Howling. Notice, too, that it is dedicated to two Tharp dancers and "all the others who made Tharp dance"--as if Tharp's own talents would have been diminished without these brilliant dancers. More subtle is the repeated pattern in which a paragraph describes some accomplishment but saves for the last sentence a verbal sting. Those acquainted with Tharp will find the author's biases achingly apparent. The pity is that those unacquainted with Tharp may not recognize them.

Judith Gelernter, who teaches in the library and information science program at Rutgers, writes frequently about dance.