Twyla Tharp (twī´lə), 1941–, American dancer and choreographer, b. Portland, Ind. An eclectic, innovative choreographer and dancer, she danced (1963–65) with Paul Taylor. For more than 20 years she had her own dance companies (1967–85, 1986–88), but in 1988 she joined the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) as an artistic associate and until 1991 was one of the company's two resident choreographers. After leaving ABT she produced two pick-up troupes, including a 1992–93 tour starring herself and Mikhail Baryshnikov. She later established relationships with two regional troupes and rejoined (1995) ABT as a choreographer. In 2000 she again launched a company of her own, Twyla Tharp Dance.
Her impudent, loose-limbed, and immensely popular choreography, which combines elements from ballet, jazz, and modern dance, is characterized by high energy and meticulous discipline despite its pop-culture effects. Her works include Deuce Coupe (1973), Push Comes to Shove (1975), Baker's Dozen (1979), When We Were Very Young (1980), Nine Sinatra Songs (1982), In the Upper Room (1986), and The Beethoven Seventh (2000). Tharp also has choreographed for stage and film musicals, and conceived, directed, and choreographed the two-act Broadway ballet Movin' Out (2002), set to songs by Billy Joel. She also choreographed the much less successful The Times They Are a-Changin' (2006), based on Bob Dylan songs, and the alternately praised and panned dance musical Come Fly Away (2010), set to songs by Frank Sinatra.
See her autobiography, Push Comes to Shove (1992); M. B. Siegel, Howling near Heaven: Twyla Therp and the Reinvention of Modern Dance (2006).