December 3, 2009 / 6:33 AM / 9 years ago

Dance's Twyla Tharp gives lessons in collaboration

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Collaboration is critical in the workplace, choreographer Twyla Tharp writes in a new book that contends while most workers do not team up with artistic greats as she does, the secrets to success are universal.

Kennedy Center Honoree country choreographer Twyla Tharp arrives at the Kennedy Center for the Gala in Washington, December 7, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

Tharp, who has worked with such luminaries as Mikhail Baryshnikov and Jerome Robbins, writes in “The Collaborative Habit” that her experience revolves around dance but applies to the broader world of work.

“You don’t have to know anything about dance to get the point. Work is work,” she writes.

Tharp won a 2003 Tony Award for Broadway’s “Movin’ Out,” set to the music and lyrics of Billy Joel. She choreographed “Push Comes to Shove” for Baryshnikov at the American Ballet Theater and created dances for director Milos Forman’s movie versions of “Hair,” “Ragtime” and “Amadeus.”

In her book, subtitled “Life Lessons for Working Together,” Tharp tells stories about collaborating with friends and institutions, laced with tidbits of advice on such topics as communication and commitment.

“There are two things that ultimately are important. One is respect, and one is the bottom line,” she said in an interview with Reuters. “Everybody needs to understand what the job is and see it the same way or it won’t work.”


One of her more entertaining tales involved musician Elvis Costello, with whom she collaborated on a piece entitled “Nightspot.” Busy with other work and responsibilities, Costello missed deadline after deadline until she and he devised a long-distance, “virtual” way to work together, she said.

Working with tap dancing great Gregory Hines and the classically trained Baryshnikov on the 1985 movie “White Nights” presented a different collaborative challenge, as the two men made “a very odd couple,” she said.

“They had no business together, but they really loved each other and they had great respect for one another,” she said. “Bottom line, they really knew what the job of dancing was. Two different languages, same message.”

She admitted that one collaboration was less than stellar — working with singer-songwriter Bob Dylan in 2006 on a dance musical “The Times They are A-Changin,’” which was poorly received.


She conceded there may have been other less-than-fruitful collaborations but would not elaborate. While she said her book was entirely true, “it’s just not every piece of the truth.”

“The Collaborative Habit,” published by Simon & Schuster, is what Tharp called an appendix to her earlier book, “The Creative Habit,” published in 2003.

“‘The Creative Habit’ is basically about how you work alone, how you survive as a solitary artist,” she said. “‘The Collaborative Habit’ is obviously about surviving with other people.”

These days, Tharp is working on “Come Fly With Me,” her fourth work set to the music of Frank Sinatra. It is slated to open on Broadway early next year.

Editing by Michelle Nichols and Peter Cooney

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