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Twyla Tharp was a world-renowned choreographer known for her award-winning work on Broadway and in films. Her dances were known for their creativity and technical precision, offing blending elements of jazz and ballet over a pop-music soundtrack. A graduate of Barnard College, Tharp founded the Twyla Tharp Dance Company in 1965 and went on to choreograph dances for numerous esteemed dance companies both in the states and abroad, including the Joffrey Ballet, The Australian Ballet, and Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Tharp began choreographing dances on Broadway in 1981 with "When We Were Very Young" (1981), and went on to choreograph dances for the hit musicals "Movin' Out" (2002) and "Come Fly Away" (2010). In addition to her work on Broadway, Tharp also served as the choreographer on Milos Forman's "Hair" (1979) and "Amadeus" (1984), as well as "Taylor Hackford's "White Nights" (1985). In recognition of her lifetime achievements in the field of dance, Tharp was honored by the Kennedy Center in 2008, thus lending further credence to her status as one of the most important American dance choreographers of the 20th Century.
Although her family would later settle in Rialto, California, Twyla Tharp grew up on a farm in the small town of Portland, Indiana. She was raised in a strictly Quaker household that valued education, and when her parents eventually did relocate the family to California, Tharp was encouraged by her mother to study dance and ballet. A conscientious student, Tharp spent the majority of her formative years engrossed in her studies. By the time high school ended, however, she became more inclined to the social aspects of the college lifestyle. Tharp moved to New York City in the early '60s to study dance at Barnard College and basically never left. After graduating from Barnard, the young dancer started her own company in 1965. She spent the next several decades choreographing dances that were performed around the world. In addition to the Twyla Tharp Dance company, some of her dances were commissioned by the New York City Ballet, the Boston Ballet, and the Paris Opera Ballet, among countless others.
In the late '70s Tharp began lending her talents to Hollywood, having choreographed 1979's "Hair," 1981's "Ragtime" and 1984's "Amadeus." Both "Ragtime" and "Amadeus" received numerous Oscar nominations, with "Amadeus" going on to win the 1985 Academy Award for Best Picture. Tharp's dance career continued to thrive in the '80s and '90s and beyond. Having choreographed Broadway musicals as far back as the early '80s, she had her first major Broadway success with 2002's "Movin' Out." The musical was set to the music and lyrics of pop singer Billy Joel, and went on to receive 10 Tony nominations, with Tharp taking home the prize for Best Choreographer. Tharp had equal success with "Come Fly Away" (2009), which was set to the music of Frank Sinatra and ran for 188 performances between 2009 and 2010 on Broadway. "Come Fly Away" also went on to become a successful nationwide touring show, with performances in Chicago, Detroit, Miami and Los Angeles. In addition to her 2008 Kennedy Center Honors, Twyla Tharp was also the recipient of 2004 National Medal Arts and a MacArthur Fellow.
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