SXSW 2021 Review: Twyla Moves

Year: 2021

Runtime: 82 minutes

Director: Steven Cantor

By Joan Amenn

Twyla Tharp has had a long career of celebrating the pleasure of human movement through dance. This has always been through the interaction of dancers whom she choreographed to have physical contact with each other. But what happens when a pandemic makes that contact impossible?

“Twyla Moves” (2021) gives us a fascinating look at how Tharp constructs a dance by showing her creative process, even though she is challenged by choreography via ZOOM meeting. And challenged is the key word here, because at no time does the viewer doubt for an instant that Tharp will rise to the occasion of this COVID induced restriction on her working routine. Twyla Tharp has overcome far greater hurdles than coordinating the delayed timing of video conferences in her life. She is sometimes perplexed by technology but never at a loss with what she wants dancers to do with their bodies and how they should move in space in relation to each other, even when they are not in the same room together.  One gets the feeling she could choreograph blindfolded, and the result would be perfect.

It is always astonishing that someone as small in frame as Tharp could exude such physical power, and even now as she approaches her eighth decade she is as formidable as a steam engine as she runs through her daily exercises. Looking back at her career, there is such clarity of vision and purpose to how she first came to New York in search of loft space and soon was working with the Paul Taylor Dance Company. Even her first choreographed piece which was titled, “Tank Dive” indicated her view that the best way to achieve something is to immerse oneself in it wholeheartedly. She has collaborated with some of the most talented people in the entertainment industry, from director Milos Forman and dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov to Billy Joel and David Byrne whose music she built wildly successful performances around. This documentary gives tantalizing glimpses of her past achievements but she is refreshingly honest in her critiques of her own work. And sometimes her past collaborators are surprisingly candid too. Billy Joel, who has spent most of his career singing songs edged with Italian machismo, sheepishly admits that he just stayed out of Tharp’s way when she mounted the show, “Moving Out” (2002) based on his songs.

Tharp is so much an icon, but makes it clear she is not satisfied to rest on past laurels. “Twyla Moves” is a wonderful invitation to visit her world in all its kinetic glory and be amazed.

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