Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work with a dance legend like Twyla Tharp? PNB corps de ballet dancer Sarah Pasch recently had that opportunity and has all good things to say.
Judith May Austin: This piece, Waiting at the Station, is your first time working with Twyla?
SP: Yes. Well, I had done a couple of her pieces before. I was in Waterbaby Bagatelles when I was a PD [Professional Division Student] and I learned In the Upper Room last season, but never got to perform it. But I rehearsed those pieces with stagers or ballet masters so, yes, this is my first time working with Twyla in person.
JMA: What’s it like the night before you work with her? Last Sunday night, what was going through your head?
SP: Well, I was a little nervous because she’s Twyla. I mean, she’s a legend. But I was also really excited to do it! It helped a little that I’d seen her in person before. She came and watched Company class when were on tour in New York last season.
JMA: What about the first day in the studio with her? How does that feel?
SP: Whatever the circumstances—if you’re out of shape or have been off—it just doesn’t matter. When she stands at the front of the studio and looks at you, you automatically know what she expects, and it’s a lot!
JMA: What is it that really sets her apart as a choreographer?
SP: She’s just a breath of fresh air in the studio. I mean, she’s been in the business so long and she just has this way of running a studio. It’s a little bit old-fashioned, but in a really good way! She treats dancers with lots of respect, but has HUGE expectations for us. She makes us better dancers.
JMA: How does she do that?
SP: She always thanks us. Every time we do something— like learn a new phrase or run section of the piece—she’ll say “Thank you, dancers” at the end. She’s all business and there’s no fooling around in her rehearsals. But, she never gets angry or yells when we get something wrong. She’ll look at you and say “Oops!” or “We’ll get it next time” and just moves on.
JMA: Talk more about how she makes you a better dancer.
SP: When she’s choreographing with us it’s like she’s always teaching us a lesson as she goes. She makes our brains work harder. Once, she taught us a phrase and then gave us seven moves that she called “inserts”. Then she had us do the phrase while adding in each of those seven moves three times. It was like doing two dances at the same time!
JMA: How would you describe the past week working with her?
SP: Amazing and positive. Back in the Spring when she was here it felt like she was just workshopping movement—taking two or three dancers at a time into a studio. But it’s all worked out in her head. When she showed up this week, we were running the piece by the end of the first day. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. She just goes and does it—she’s like superwoman.
Featured Photo: PNB corps de ballet dancers Elle Macy & Sarah Pasch in rehearsal with Twyla Tharp. Photo © Lindsay Thomas.