While many in the Santa Fe audience on Sept. 22 will be long-time fans of the dances of Twyla Tharp, several local residents know her work more intimately.
Ray Kurshals, who owns Pilates Santa Fe and has been teaching the method here since 1993, danced in the Twyla Tharp company from 1976 to 1986, appearing in such famous works as Baker’s Dozen and Nine Sinatra Songs, as well as working in the movies Hair and Amadeus and appearing on Broadway in Singin’ in the Rain. “It was a dream come true to work with Twyla,” he said. “I danced for Ronald Reagan at the White House and got to perform all over the world. I loved her work. It was challenging to dance and it was new.”
Catherine Oppenheimer, co-founder of NDI New Mexico and instrumental in founding the New Mexico School for the Arts, was one of the last two ballerinas hired by George Balanchine at New York City Ballet. It was there that she first came into contact with Tharp. “Her process was cool — and her movement style was really different. Ballet is usually about pointe, about getting your weight up and over your toe shoes. She was down and under. The movement was coming from underneath, from your hamstrings. It was hard to do.” After Balanchine died (in 1983), Oppenheimer felt that things weren’t right for her at NYCB. She auditioned for Tharp and became an original company member for In the Upper Room ,a piece since acquired by many ballet companies, featuring music by Philip Glass. In the piece, she was required to dance in sneakers and then change into pointe shoes. There was a lot of running backward. “Twyla would start with four of us working out a tiny section of a phrase. Then she’d say, ‘Go away and figure out what it is.’ We’d work for hours and then come back, and she would say, ‘Now reverse it.’ It was an eye-opener.” — M.W.S.