(b Portland, Ind., 1 Jul. 1941)
US dancer, choreographer, and company director. She grew up in California, studying ballet with Beatrice Collenette (once a member of Pavlova's company), baton-twirling, and Hawaiian tap. She moved to New York to study art history at Barnard College, and there studied ballet with Igor Schwezoff, Richard Thomas, and Margaret Craske, modern dance with Graham, Nikolais, Cunningham, and Taylor, and jazz with Matt Mattox. From 1963 to 1964 she danced with Paul Taylor, but in 1965 formed a company to present her own work. Her first dance concert was at Hunter College on 29 Apr. 1965, a performance of the seven-minute long Tank Dive, choreographed for herself and four non-dancers. Initially Tharp was part of New York's avant-garde, her choreography performed without music and often set in unusual spaces (out of doors, in art galleries and gymnasiums). One of her first creations, Re-Moves, performed at the Judson Memorial Church, ended with the dancers inside a giant box, invisible to the audience. Then in 1970 Tharp set her first choreography to music and her work steadily became more mainstream, incorporating elements of popular culture, mixing different dance idioms. In 1973 her first commissioned work for Robert Joffrey Deuce Coupe was a turning point in her career. Set to songs by the Beach Boys, it redefined Tharp as one of America's wittiest, most entertaining and versatile choreographers. Her loose-limbed, jazz-influenced style gave the classically trained dancers of Joffrey a new performing attitude, and Tharp repeated this success with Push Comes to Shove (1976). This was for American Ballet Theatre and was a tailor-made showcase for Baryshnikov, redefining ballet's supreme classicist as a roguish bowler-hatted womanizer. It was one of the biggest successes in ABT's history. Later, Tharp brought together her own dancers and those of ABT for In the Upper Room, a work whose exhilarating speed and aggressive physicality brought a new public to dance. From 1988 to 1990 she was artistic associate at American Ballet Theatre. She also worked with the Paris Opera Ballet, and for the Royal Ballet created Mr Worldly Wise, a full-length ‘themed’ ballet, loosely based on the life of Rossini.
Despite her early rigorous experiments Tharp also began to work extensively in commercial theatre. She has created five full-length dance shows on Broadway: When We Were Very Young (mus. John Simon, 1980), The Catherine Wheel (mus. David Byrne, 1981), the Tony Award-winning Movin' Out (mus. Billy Joel, 2002), The Times They Are A-Changin' (mus. Bob Dylan, 2006), and Come Fly Away (mus. Sinatra songs, 2010). In addition she has choreographed and directed the Broadway musical Singin' in the Rain (1985) and choreographed for the films Hair (1979), Ragtime (1981), Amadeus (1984), and White Nights (1985).
A list of her works includes Tank Dive (1965), Re-Moves (1966), After Suite (1969), Medley (1969), Group Activities (1969), Dancing in the Streets of London and Paris, Continued in Stockholm and Sometimes Madrid (1969), The Fugue (1970), The One Hundreds (1970), Eight Jelly Rolls (mus. Jelly Roll Morton, 1971), The Bix Pieces (mus. Bix Beiderbecke, 1971), The Raggedy Dances (mus. Scott Joplin, Mozart, 1972), Deuce Coupe (mus. Beach Boys, Joffrey Ballet, 1973), As Time Goes By (mus. Haydn, Joffrey Ballet, 1973), In the Beginnings (mus. Moss, 1974), Sue's Leg (mus. Fats Waller, 1975), Ocean's Motion (mus. Chuck Berry, 1975), Push Comes to Shove (mus. Haydn and Joseph Lamb, American Ballet Theatre, 1976), Give and Take (mus. various, 1976), Once More, Frank (mus. recordings by Frank Sinatra, 1976), Happily Ever After (mus. traditional American country music, Joffrey Ballet, 1976), After All (mus. Albinoni, for ice skater John Curry, 1976), Mud (mus. Mozart, 1977), Baker's Dozen (mus. Willie ‘the Lion’ Smith, 1979), Brahms' Paganini (mus. Brahms, 1980), Short Stories (mus. Supertramp, Bruce Springsteen, 1980), Third Suite (mus. Bach, 1980), Nine Sinatra Songs (mus. recordings by Frank Sinatra, 1982), Bad Smells (mus. Glenn Branca, 1982), Telemann (mus. Telemann, 1983), The Golden Section (mus. David Byrne, 1983), Bach Partita (mus. Bach, American Ballet Theatre, 1983), Brahms/Handel (with Robbins, mus. Brahms, New York City Ballet, 1984), Sinatra Suite (mus. recordings by Frank Sinatra, American Ballet Theatre, 1984), The Little Ballet (mus. Glazunov, American Ballet Theatre, 1984), In the Upper Room (mus. Glass, 1986), Quartet (mus. Terry Riley, American Ballet Theatre, 1989), Bum's Rush (mus. Dick Hyman, American Ballet Theatre, 1989), Rules of the Game (mus. Bach, Paris Opera Ballet, 1989), Brief Fling (mus. Colombier, Grainger, American Ballet Theatre, 1990), Grand Pas: Rhythm of the Saints (mus. Paul Simon, Paris Opera Ballet, 1991), The Men's Piece (1991), Octet (mus. Edgar Meyer, 1991), Sextet (mus. Bob Telson, Peter Melnick, 1992), Demeter and Persephone (mus. various, klezmer, Martha Graham company, 1993), Pergolesi (mus. Pergolesi, White Oak Dance Project, 1993), Waterbaby Bagatelles (mus. various, Boston Ballet, 1994), How Near Heaven (mus. Britten, American Ballet Theatre, 1995), Americans We (mus. Donald Hunsberger, ABT, 1995), Jump Start (mus. Wynton Marsalis, ABT, 1995), Mr Worldly Wise (mus. Rossini, Royal Ballet, 1995), Sweet Fields (mus. William Billings, 1996), Heroes (mus. Glass, 1996), 66 (mus. various, 1996), The Storyteller (mus. Kiyong Kim, Australian Ballet, 1997), Roy's Joys (mus. Roy Eldridge, 1997), Known By Heart (mus. Mozart, Donald Knaack, Steve Reich, ABT, 1998), Diabelli Variations (mus. Beethoven, 1999), Grosse Sonate (mus. Beethoven, 1999), The Beethoven Seventh (mus. Beethoven, New York City Ballet, 2000), Surfer at the River Styx (mus. Donald Knaack, 2000), Rabbit and Rogue (mus. Danny Elfman, ABT, 2008). Author of autobiography Push Comes to Shove (New York, 1992).