Jerry Mitchell on Twyla Tharp

Kennedy Center honors the dance diva

When I saw Twyla Tharp’s ballet “Sinatra Suites,” I thought, “Well, this is the most brilliant thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” Up until then, I don’t believe I had ever seen girls dance ballet in high heels. Being a Broadway choreographer, I thought I could do a ballet too. She allowed me to break rules. She breaks rules, and when a choreographer breaks rules, it is exciting. She is like Jerome Robbins. They are not only great choreographers but great directors of dance, great storytellers. For me, it is always more important when there is a story embedded in the dance. I always get that from Twyla’s work, especially her “Movin’ Out.”

“Movin’ Out” has some of the most thrilling dancing we’ve seen in a long time on the Broadway stage. Musicals don’t usually require that kind of expertise, that kind of amazing work or allow the choreographer-director that much time to tell a story. Can other choreographers on Broadway do it? Yes. But they’re not being asked to do it with the musicals that are now being written. Twyla decided to do it herself. She wrote it. She wrote it in dance.

Tony winner Jerry Mitchell is director-choreographer of the musical “Legally Blonde,” now on tour.

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