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Review of "Movin' Out" in The Nation


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In the December 23, 2002 issue of The Nation, there is a review of "Movin' Out" by Diane Rafferty. (Link unavailable.) It starts out snappily: "A lot of nonsense has been written about the choreographer Twyla Tharp and her hit Broadway show, 'Movin' Out'…..She's been called 'the high priestess of modern dance' on CBS' 'Sunday Morning' and a pop psychologist in The New Yorker." She goes on: "Apart from her modern dance works from 1965 to 1973 and….the unwatchable The Catherine Wheel of 1981, Tharp, who trained in ballet, has stuck to ballet."

On mime: "…mime, whose sole, tedious purpose is to mimic behavior and thus, by extension, comment on it – i.e., psychologize. There is, thankfully, no mime, or "psychology," whatsoever in 'Movin' Out.'"

"...like her mentors, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, Tharp wouldn't give psychology the time of day. As they did, she believes that ballet can express anything."

On Tharp's inspiration for "Movin' Out": "Tharp, I believe, based her ballet on, and gave it all the gravitas of, the Romantic "Giselle" (1841). The updating of classic, or mythic, stories can achieve grandeur if it ingeniously keys in the particulars of the period to what's on the audience's mind at the performance without betraying the universality of the original story's emotional truths."

Wrapup: "Suffice it to say that Tharp has brought men back to ballet and ballet back to Broadway."

I'm not going to comment on this, for the moment, but I'd be interested to hear from others. It's difficult to discuss a piece when it can't be quoted in full, but I thought some of these comments were thought provoking, let's say.

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Where to start?

Grabbing what's handy on the web (from Art and Culture, a very nice site I hadn't checked in awhile)


An affluent child of suburbia, Tharp enjoyed dance training with the best in each genre; her list of teachers reads like a "Who’s Who" roster of twentieth-century dance: Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Alwin Nikolais, Matt Mattox, and Paul Taylor. Tharp briefly joined Taylor’s company in 1963, leaving a year later to create her own company.

Artandculture also does justice to Tharp's considerable modern dance oeuvre. (An irrelevant aside, but although I didn't much care for the MIME portion of Catherine Wheel, I like the Golden Section a lot.)

I wonder at the definition of mime expressed in the quotes above, as well as the idea of that Jerry ("Age of Anxiety," "The Dybbuk Variations") Robbins eschewed psychology.

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Twyla still has a dance company called Twyla Tharp Dance. (It has had other names, including "Tharp!") THey are not a ballet company, and they something that looks like modern dance to me, though it certainly has ballet aspects. In other words, they perform Tharp. I can't see how saying she has "stuck to ballet" is accurate.

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Sigh. Obviously if I had applied myself more assiduously to destroying my brain cells in college, I too could write for The Nation.

"A lot of nonsense has been written about the choreographer Twyla Tharp and her hit Broadway show, 'Movin' Out'…..

Well, at least she got that part right!

And it's stretching a point until it screams to say Balanchine was a mentor of Tharp's (an inspiration, perhaps), I have fond, if vague, memories from the Seventies of a work called Give and Take, which certainly looked like a tribute to Stars and Stripes, a vastly underrated ballet.

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I must admit this was a rather disheartening piece. It wasn't only what was said, but that it was said with such, well, assertiveness.

liebs, I didn't think the "Giselle" comparison wasn't defensible. I'm afraid I was more struck by the awkwardness of the phrasing. It's not Rafferty's fault, some editor should have helped her out.

Department of Petty Beefs – the article refers to Tharp's "Little Ballet" and it's "The Little Ballet." It drives me nuts when definite articles go missing, as if they were of no importance – "Four Temperaments" for example, which is a) not the correct title and B) incorrect because there are ONLY four temperaments. Thank you for letting me get that off my chest. :))

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I thought the "mentor" line was interesting, too, Manhattnik -- and I've never read Tharp herself claiming this.

A conundrum: why is everyone scrambling to be called "ballet choreographers" at a time when ballet is at an aesthetic low point? Why the cachet? One would think it would be the reverse. "Ballet? Oh, no. Not me. Not that choreographer I like so much. We don't have anything to do with ballet. No sireebobkins. We're MUCH better, much more hip, more hop, more now." Or is it just that there is no leader, no center to ballet now, and when that happens it's a free for all? Just an idle question....

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Like another writer who caused a stir here with her "assertiveness," Diane Rafferty "trained as a professional dancer at the School of American Ballet," according to The Nation.

As an unreconstructed fuzzy-thinking, bleeding-heart, tax-and-spend liberal, I am a subscriber to The Nation. But there's a lot of stuff in it I know not to read.

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A background as a dancer can only help and not hurt a writer about dance, I'm sure. I intended the post only to incite discussion, not to elicit responses of "How awful!" However, when an article makes eminently debatable statements in a markedly declarative fashion, it can provide an inviting subject, or target, for argument and discussion.

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I wrote a letter to the editor awhile back praising Aloff's "Jewels" piece and requesting more dance articles in the magazine. Maybe I should have specified "more Mindy" instead of "more dance." That is, if they noticed my letter, which I'm inclined to doubt. :D

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