Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

How does Twyla Tharp, nearly 80, keep working? According to her, it’s simple.

Benjamin rehearsing a Twyla Tharp dance. Photo: Zoom

Excerpted from Keep It Moving: Lessons for the Rest of Your Life by Twyla Tharp
Courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Twenty years ago, I wrote a book called “The Creative Habit,” sharing the message that we can all live creative lives if only we could stop waiting for a muse to arrive with divine inspiration and instead just get down to work. In other words, you too can be more creative if you are willing to sweat a little. This message still resonates when I lecture. But, interestingly, the question I am most often asked after a talk these days is on a different topic entirely: “How do you keep working?” The subtext here, sotto voce, is “...at your age?” Which is seventy-eight.  

To me it is simple. I continue to work as I always have, expecting each day to build on the one before. And I do not see why I should not continue to work in this spirit.  

“Keep It Moving” is intended to encourage those who wish to maintain their prime a very long time. Like most books of practical advice, it identifies a “disease” and offers a cure. That disease, simply put, is our fear of time passing and the resulting aging process. The remedy? The book in your hands.  

I flirted with the idea of calling this book “The Youth Habit.” I liked the suggestion that youth’s virtues could be easily transplanted into our post youth years if only we followed a routine: take the stairs, use sunscreen, ingest more omega-3s and fewer omega-6s, don’t shortchange yourself on sleep. Cut out sugar, do something nice for someone else daily, floss, read more, watch less, love the one you’re with, and it’s okay to drink wine (until the next study says it isn’t). Sounded like a bestseller to me. 

But if experience has taught me anything, it’s that chasing youth is a losing proposition. There’s little benefit in looking back, at least not with yearning or nostalgia or any other melancholy humor. To look back is to cling to something well over and behind you. We don’t lose youth. Youth stays put. We move on. We need to face the fact that aging will happen to us along with everybody else and just get on with it. Growing older is a strange stew of hope, despair, courage — still I think you will agree — it is light-years ahead of the alternative.  

I don’t promise eternal youth in “Keep It Moving.” I have no interest in sugarcoating the aging process. What I believe in is change and the vitality it brings. Vitality means moving through life with energy and vigor, making deliberate choices and putting to good use the time and energy that we have been granted. You have, no doubt, seen people in their late seventies or even into their nineties who don’t seem worn out by their years but instead welcome the opportunity to be truly present in their bodies and in their minds. Instead of stubbornly staying on known paths, afraid to stray, they look at what comes next with curiosity, expanding into whatever it may be.  

So, no, this book is not “The Youth Habit.” Nor is it “The Creative Habit” — which promotes regularity in living and working — because as we grow older, it is just as important to break habits as it is to make them. 

I want to reprogram how you think about aging by getting rid of two corrosive ideas. First, that you need to emulate youth, resolving to live in a corner of the denial closet marked “reserved for aged.” Second, that your life must contract with time. Let’s start by breaking some old thought patterns.  

I’ve danced my entire life (and still do) and I’ve spent time with many great performers. For these dancers and athletes, the passage of time presents mostly difficult realities. The jump declines, speed diminishes, flexibility is challenged. And fear of decline and irrelevance starts early.

Years ago, I was sitting in a coffee shop with a dancer of remarkable talents, Mikhail Baryshnikov. We had just finished one of the early rehearsals for “Push Comes to Shove,” a ballet I wrote for him. Even then it was clear that he was a phenomenon, one of the very greatest classical dancers of the twentieth century. Though he was in his prime, he was looking morose as we drank our coffee. I asked him, “Misha, what’s the matter? You don’t like what we’re doing?” No, he said, he loved what we were doing; “But,” he added, “soon we will be old.” He was all of twenty-seven. And yet I understood.

For dancers, aging is ever in front of us as we work. We face it each time we enter the studio, one day older than the day before. But who among us in the civilian population has not shared the feeling that they, too, will be finished by forty? It needles when things don’t work the way they used to. And it doesn’t help that, gradually, as joints begin to ache and memory to slip, we are bombarded by negative messages from our culture. Older adults are frequently portrayed as out of touch, useless, feeble, incompetent, pitiful, and irrelevant. Sadly, these dismal expectations can become self-fulfilling, creating the bias that fuels our roaring age industry — pills, diets, special cosmetics, surgery — all promising to send time reeling backward. But no. Time goes only one way: forward. 

The result? Frustration becomes a habit. Little indignities become a reason to rant and complain. But that scenario will bleed out your spirit, take away your resiliencies. If you go into situations always expecting to be cheated or deprived, you’ll likely find ways to tell yourself that is exactly what has happened. Don’t go searching for things that confirm or fuel your sense of indignation. It will become a default mind-set promoting more of the same.

Let’s agree: Age is not the enemy. Stagnation is the enemy. Complacency is the enemy. Stasis is the enemy. Attempting to maintain the status quo, smoothing our skin, and keeping our tummies trim become distractions that obscure a larger truth. Attempting to freeze your life in time at any point is totally destructive to the prospect of a life lived well and fully. All animate creatures are destroyed when frozen. They do not move. This is not a worthy goal. 

However, the forces that create inertia in our lives are difficult to resist for they are hardwired into us. People prefer to keep going along as they always have rather than make a decision that would knock them out of their groove, even when it would be relatively easy to change course. Behavioral scientists refer to this as status quo bias. We succumb to this bias with habits large and small, from an inability to give up our three cups of coffee a day to staying with a partner long after it’s clear that the relationship is over. The devil best known becomes our buddy.  

Along with status quo bias, there is another habit I’d like to undo. As we get older and our bodies enjoy less natural freedom of movement, we tend to take up less space, both physically and metaphorically. Here’s the endpoint of this tendency: our backs arch forward, no longer straight and long. Our steps shorten from a stride to a shuffle. Our vision narrows, slowly erasing the periphery, leaving only what’s in front of our nose. No wonder we prefer remaining at home, our life lived in fewer and fewer rooms. We let our bodies constrict, inviting the world around us to close in.  

The mind will follow the body’s contraction. On this path, our concerns narrow down to the most elemental functions: what to eat, getting enough sleep, keeping an appointment. 

Contraction is not inevitable. You can resist and reverse.

SHARE
TRANSCRIPT

♪♪ [ Siren wails in distance ] [ Computer chimes ] -There he is.

Oh, he has on his yellow bandana.

How handsome.

Okay. So, Herman, let's talk about what we're doing here.

We want to start to find what we call the heartbeat for the character that you are.

♪♪ Okay.

Can you transfer and fall back in the air?

Yes, you can.

The world of dance closed down.

The pandemic totally closed the opportunities for dancers to work, dances to get made, dances to get presented.

Maybe I can connect a dancer with another dancer through Zoom, and we can create a single thing, and we can pull us together even though we're miles apart.

[ Breathing heavily ] Dancers have to work every day.

I have to work every day.

How are we going to do this?

[ Sylvan Esso's 'Ferris Wheel' plays ] ♪♪ -♪ August in the heat ♪ ♪ Sweaty in the street ♪ ♪ Tilt-a-whirling ♪ ♪ Whirling, whirling ♪ ♪ When I'm slamming in my dancing shoes ♪ ♪ Asphalt's hot and my knees all bruised ♪ ♪ It's the summer, got a lot to prove ♪ ♪ Can't wait to do it, can you? ♪ ♪ No! ♪ ♪♪ -One thing you can always expect from choreographer Twyla Tharp, that is the unexpected.

-Twyla Tharp has transformed American dance as both a performer and choreographer.

Her work transcends traditional definitions of the medium, combining elements of ballet and modern dance.

-♪ For tonight ♪ [ Computer chimes ] -Maria!

How are you? -I'm good.

How are you?

-Good morning, Benjamin.

Would like to tell you just a bit about this project.

[ Computer chimes ] -Hi.

-Misty! Girl!

-Whenever I see Twyla's name come up on my phone, I'm just like, I don't know what to expect, but I know it's going to be exciting.

-Let's see if we can bring St. Petersburg and L.A. together.

People -- We can bring people together.

This is about introducing the four main characters in a tale called 'The Princess and the Goblin.'

It's going to be a reduction of the entire novel, less than three minutes, in which the Princess Irene is going to go into the underworld.

That has a species of people that have been in quarantine forever, and she is going to help them find a way to be released.

So, Maria, the character that you are playing, her name is Irene.

The girl is the hero.

The character you are playing is the Queen.

-Oh. -Ah, of course.

The people who live with you in the underworld are in quarantine.

They've been in quarantine for centuries, for epochs, and they, too, would like to get out.

How long have you been in quarantine?

I think I'm going into my ninth week.

We're making a piece in two dimensions and four squares.

We don't have a stage, but we have a virtual platform.

Let's get it on YouTube, and let's share it with people.

♪♪ I had just graduated from college, and I wanted space to work in 'cause I was going to be a dancer.

There was a loft on Franklin Street.

I went downtown and found the street, but not the building.

There was a man seated on the stoop.

His name was Bob Huot.

Said, 'Are you looking for a loft?'

I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'Okay, upstairs.'

That was on the fourth floor.

I started up. He was on the third floor.

The rent on this floor was 50 bucks a month.

That sounded good to me.

And there was nothing -- literally nothing -- below Canal Street but artists in these spaces, which were illegal.

Became aware of other people in the area who had lofts and who were working and who were far more established than I.

I had graduated in art history, but these guys were practicing art.

That's very different.

Suddenly, you're in front of, you know, the guys who are going to determine the history of American art.

That's, 'Whoa!'

I was a kid.

I didn't have any tangible foundation.

These people had all done something.

They were all moving on from somewhere they had been.

I was still looking for a place to start.

While I was still at Barnard College, I had also been studying dance.

I took ballet class with your Igor Schwezoff.

I was taking classes at Cunningham Studio.

I was taking classes at the Graham Studio.

Paul Taylor was in class.

He was just starting a company, and I just managed to get into one of his rehearsals.

Marched in, sat on the floor in the front of the room, he said, 'Who are you?' and I said, 'My name is Twyla.

I'm gonna be dancing here.'

He was so shocked, he didn't throw me out.

♪♪ I was a very unpleasant company member.

I would have fired me long before he did.

I felt the work was not challenging.

I didn't feel he was challenging himself.

And I told him so.

He just looked at me and said, 'Well, maybe you better go out and try trial by fire, and I said, 'Okay.'

So, I would just try to do a dance, which was called 'Tank Dive.'

It was called 'Tank Dive' because I always said, 'Okay.

Your chances of becoming successful are about the same as somebody jumping off a hundred-foot pole into a thimble of water. Good luck.

We'll call it 'Tank Dive.'' I used no music in 'Tank Dive' and for every piece during the next five years.

What I needed to learn was, 'What could movement communicate?'

Not movement to music.

Because if I do a phrase to happy music, everybody would be happy.

If I do the same phrase to sad, they'll all be sad.

What if I just do the phrase?

What will they feel?

-I gave myself stuff to do that nobody else was doing.

That was the point.

And nobody else was standing still on relevé for a minute and a half.

♪♪ It did what it was supposed to do -- it launched a career, like the diving board that you use to dive down into the water.

And then you got to learn how to swim.

The next piece, 'Stride,' was done in what would now be called an alternative space, which was a rooftop in Brooklyn.

I don't remember how we snuck in.

It must've been over a fire escape or something to get in.

♪♪ I was not trying to make the world's greatest dance.

I was just trying to find a starting place that had enough substance to evolve.

♪♪ [ Computer chimes ] -Ah. There you go.

We're together now.

Okay, guys, so here's what we're going to do.

-When the pandemic started, I had no idea what to expect.

I want to say I was surprised that Twyla came callin', but at the same time, I wasn't.

-And three, and... -I've been working with her for, I think, 22 years.

There's never something that could hold Twyla back from creating or working.

It feeds her.

It's something that she has to do.

-Herman, you remember, you've been trying to sleep, but you've been woken up because stone shoes here is stomping around and keeping you awake, and you go over to listen at the wall.

You're going to go over to downstage left, and you're going to pull him through the wall.

Okay. Yes.

That is a spatial difficulty.

-The way she approaches choreography, it's not about the steps.

It's more than that.

-She's gonna yank you in to -- That's it, right.

Good. There, we got it.

-When she comes into a studio and says, 'No, you do this because of that, and because of that, you do that, and then all of this is combined, and this is the movement,' and you're like, 'Wow.'

And then you try to do the movement like that, and it's so difficult.

Like, she's not sitting and telling you what to do.

Like, she stands up and goes into the space and does it.

And then you try to do it.

And you're like, 'Oh, my back went out.'

[ Laughs ] -We're all trying to keep up with her is the moral of the story. [ Chuckles ] -I've just pulled him through the wall.

I'm gonna give him -- unh! -- a big yank, and I'm gonna take him around the space, and I'm going to throw him upstage.

Make a little more work about leveraging him around the corner.

Make more movement for yourself going through.

That's it!

Now give it a hoist.

Good!

Right. Yes!

-The idea was so new just in terms of, like, entering into this new state, you know, where everything's virtual, everything's on Zoom.

And even in this stage of her career, in her life, she's setting the standard for where dance is evolving to.

♪♪ -I, early on, felt the need to have companionship in the dancing and also counterpoint in the dancing.

That requires more than yourself.

♪♪ We began as all women because we didn't want to be told what to do.

♪♪ We work together as women can work together, which is very tight.

We put a man in, the chemistry changes.

♪♪ The 'Bunch of Broads,' we called ourselves.

But I worked hard to have diversity, you might say, in the group, both culturally diverse but also physically diverse.

Graciela, her movement is just huge.

She could fling really wide.

She was very, very strong.

Sheela was amazingly fast -- small, compact, very rhythmic.

Theresa was lanky and a different kind of weight in her body.

♪♪ Rose was a classically trained dancer.

She was very large.

She was almost 6 foot on point.

She auditioned for the New York City Ballet, but Balanchine thought she was too tall.

I didn't care how tall she was.

She was a great dancer.

♪♪ Margery was a true lyric dancer.

There were no gaps in her movement.

♪♪ Sara was just luscious.

Sara was just great. She was -- Everything she did was right all the time.

She was a natural dancer.

So we were a well-balanced group.

We had very little rehearsal space.

And in order to get more work time, we just started working in the park.

♪♪ I started thinking about distances, and I started thinking about, 'Oh, somebody who's close, you do this kind of movement, and you'll see it.

But when they're 20 feet away, you do that, you're not going to see that.

You got to do this kind of movement.

And if they're 40 feet away, and then if they're a hundred yards down there, you got to do this.'

♪♪ ♪♪ Here are all these people, they're having their lives, they're walking around, they don't have to buy tickets and sit down.

You're interjecting yourself into their reality.

There were football games going through us and horseback people, and, you know, babies are squalling and bicycles are going through the dance.

And you're saying, 'Yeah, we're just the same as a bicycle or -- We're just an element in the park.'

That's not what theatrical dance is.

Theatrical dance is separated -- here's the audience, here's the event.

We were merged.

♪♪ ♪♪ -And there was a very long, slow adagio at the end that went on forever, and the sun is setting behind it.

And that's how you knew it was over, because the energy had run out.

♪♪ 'Medley' had been seen by a curator named Henry Geldzahler, who was assembling a show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

And he invited us to be included in that show.

♪♪ He put dance in the middle of painting and sculpture.

We were doing work that, you know, fit into spaces that were not staged spaces.

Stages were for ballet companies.

I was not in that tradition.

I was in the tradition, 'Just get out there and do it.'

♪♪ ♪♪ We had no obligations other than to dance as well as we could dance.

♪♪ And that ended.

Everybody began to need money.

Sheela and Graciela's green cards ran out, and they couldn't renew.

Theresa got married and moved away.

Margery got married and moved away.

We couldn't earn an income.

We couldn't develop a life.

We didn't have a studio.

I felt like we'd been building something, but obviously a future in dance at this point was out of the question.

So I quit.

There was nothing more to be done.

And I left New York.

Okay, Misty, this was right on the beginning of your one.

And one, two, four.

♪♪ Two.

Three.

Four.

♪♪ And pull him across.

And take him around.

And give him a big push.

Good. Thank you.

Okay. That's the idea.

I thought actually you were one count late pulling him in.

-Okay. -What I don't know is whether you guys have got a time lag.

-Can we just count? -Yes, totally.

One.

See? Stop. Stop.

My one is one, one before your one.

No, I don't think it's us, Misty.

I think it is the connection.

So, listen, guys, this technology will make us crazy, but you know what? We'll fight our way through it.

There is a discipline to taking a more restricted arena and learning lessons and finding potential there, which is what the Zoom is.

The zoom is very restrictive.

I've always been my best tool.

I work whenever and however I need to so that I've been able to evolve a lot of material on myself.

Dances come from dancing.

I don't make a dance.

I dance, and then something starts to make sense.

A dance will evolve, if the idea is good enough.

♪♪ I try not to get emotional about the past because you were so much younger and the body was so much more malleable, and you just can't allow yourself to go back there and feel that.

So you have to go back there and look at it for the lessons that you can use.

♪♪ By 1970, I had married Bob Huot, the gentleman on the stoop at 104 Franklin Street.

Bob Huot and I moved to a farm four hours north of the city in order to start a family.

I was pregnant.

I started working on the farmhouse.

I started doing chores.

But soon Rose came up and then Sarah came because they didn't want to stop dancing any more than I did.

We're dancers. You don't just stop dancing.

We had been too embedded in the work we were doing to just let it go.

So soon we were working again on a piece called 'The Fugue.'

[ Rhythmic slapping ] One, two, three, four, three, boom, one, one, two, three, four, three, two, one, one, two, three, four, three, two, one, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, one, two, three, four, three, two, one, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.

I also had a studio in the attic.

And I was able there to set up a secondhand Panasonic video deck that I had brought from the city.

And the project that I started was to record movement that I could do at different stages of the pregnancy safely.

So, how does a body change?

This was going to be an opportunity to learn some interesting lessons.

There was no other way to do it.

Bob, my husband, was not happy.

He was not happy to have his family life disrupted.

And that time was being shared between his family-to-be and the work that was being done.

I thought these two could fit together.

He felt they could not.

♪♪ Jesse was born.

Then I went in a totally different direction after that.

I went back to New York.

We changed course to start developing a mode of engaging an audience that would pay the bills because now we had diapers to buy.

♪♪ Jess was our companion, and Jess was a part of our lives and part of our work.

He'd be in there on the floor crawling, and he was always in the studio with us.

♪♪ -I was aware early on that my parents were very different than everybody else's parents.

They believed in their art as being the primary focus of their existence.

Mom and Dad were on very different wavelengths.

-Bob and I were divorced.

And he was on the farm. I was working in New York.

♪♪ I became the sole breadwinner.

And it was a change of heart that was an artistic change of heart as well as a romantic change of heart because I was no longer willing to be in the avant garde.

Now we were building dances that were going to be performed for paying audiences.

Up until this point, our performances had all been free.

♪♪ We used to be, in the avant garde, ragged hair hanging down however, blue jeans are torn, so on and so forth.

We started realizing if we are going to become a commercially viable entity, we have to put on a show.

And it was suggested that our hair needed to have attention.

I would go and set the example.

I went to Sassoon, which was a big deal in dance because we all did the bun-head thing or we had long hair or whatever.

And I had this hair that was flying around.

We got costumes.

'Eight Jelly Rolls' featured me in a role as a silent clown.

♪♪ Those early pieces were kind of tribute pieces to American theatrics.

♪♪ In vaudeville, women did not do the stuff Buster Keaton did.

So, I said, 'Well, I can do that stuff.

'Okay, guys can do it, I can do it.

I can do a pratfall.'

♪♪ ♪♪ I didn't want to be stopped by any of the sort of clichés about what women could do or couldn't do.

♪♪ And it was a sort of progression from austere, kind of in-silence pieces to show-biz pieces.

♪♪ Show the folks a good time.

-The pieces we do now are nothing like the pieces we did then, but they're all rooted in the same, you know, integrity and intelligence and desire to work and find out what dancing is and what we wanted to do.

-I made the fastest, hardest dancing I could think of.

There are some very literal gestures.

I mean, for example, the banjo solo that I do starts out with hitching a ride down the street.

How do you do? I'm knocking off my foot.

Oh, yeah, there it goes. Oh, I see it. I see it.

I still need a ride. How are you?

I'm washing my hands of this whole mess.

Oh, I hate you a lot.

I'm bowing down here, this cello.

I am shooting craps.

Shame on you. You're a bad person.

Traffic goes this way. Hello out there.

Again, I will polish the mirror, and then bouncing a basketball.

And then this is my notion of some Jewish something or other.

And then we have this black bottom number put in because it is called 'The Black Bottom Stomp.'

And then we go to the knock-kneed sheriff, and the last little dirty movement that we can put in before it comes to fast diagonal.

And that all happens at this tempo.

-One, two, two, two.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Sara and Rose were the nucleus.

We were all women.

Then suddenly we got a man.

Ken Rinker was the first man with us, and he went into 'The Bix Pieces.'

Why? Because he was really good.

We had now grown to five.

We had an administrator.

We were called Twyla Tharp Dance.

We were a company.

At one point, I had one of the dancers do a phrase of movement in a sort of modern dancing kind of way, and the other one is doing it totally classically.

It was that section that Bob Joffrey saw.

And Joffrey looked at it and said, 'Holy cow.

She could make a ballet.'

So Joffrey came to me after the 'Bix' and said, 'Would you make a ballet for my company?'

Ready? And, ah, one, two, four, one.

Four and one.

I said, 'Well, shall I start with 'Swan Lake'?' And he nicely said, 'No, I think it'd be good to do something shorter first.'

♪♪ So then I said, 'Okay, I will do a ballet, 'but I need to bring my dancers in as well 'because I can't just abandon them.

'Sara and Rose here -- we've been together for 10 years.

Ken just came in. You'll take us all.'

He agreed.

'Okay, fine, it'll be two companies working together.'

'It'll be a modern company with a ballet company.

That's fine. We'll do that.'

And I said, 'And I think I'll use The Beach Boys.'

This is a ballet company, right?

We don't do The Beach -- He did. He said, 'Okay.'

-♪ Well, I'm not braggin', babe, so don't put me down ♪ ♪ But I've got... ♪ -The Beach Boys is straight out, hard-core pop music.

And I put it into the ballet world.

And I'm sure that the classicists, if you will -- 'Oh, my God. Can this be?'

And I didn't think of it from that point of view because I thought that the Joffrey ballet audience wanted something with energy and something that was fresh.

And The Beach Boys had a vitality and a 'Let's get going here,' you know?

Like, all of their songs are about motion.

-♪ ...with the top end floored ♪ ♪ She's my little deuce coupe ♪ ♪ You don't know what I got ♪ -When I was riding the subways and was seeing the graffiti painted on the sides of the subways -- this was just happening.

These guys were just coming out.

I was like, 'Whoa, that is something else.

We need that behind us.'

Because 'Deuce Coupe' turned out to be about the sort of spirit and adventure of teenagers.

And that seemed to me the perfect background.

-♪ Well, she blows 'em outta the water like you never seen ♪ ♪ I get pushed out of shape, and it's hard to steer ♪ -These guys -- they were wanted by the police.

We had to lock them up upstairs so that they wouldn't get arrested between shows.

They were outlaws.

-♪ You don't know what I got ♪ ♪ She's my little deuce coupe ♪ ♪ You don't know what I got ♪ -When I started to work in the Joffrey, for the men it was maybe a bit challenging.

They were not accustomed to having women tell them what to do or where to go.

Two, three, four. Oops!

The men in his company really didn't want to hear from a female choreographer.

And a number of them went to Bob Joffrey and said, 'We don't want to do this.'

And Bob said, 'That's too bad.

Get back in there and do it, or you're fired.'

I learned from 'Deuce Coupe and from working with Bob Joffrey that I could do it.

For a young person to have a man with his experience, believed in my vision, said, 'Okay, kid, you can do this.

You got a future.'

That made one very confident.

If Bob Joffrey says you can do it, go for it.

♪♪ The Zoom has been a window into dancers that's very interesting and very different because they're at home.

-Hello, little petit.

Oh, he's fast asleep, and he's getting very large.

Hi, Dad. This is my son, Jesse.

-Hello. Good morning.

-You're coming into their home.

You're coming into time shared with them in a very different way.

And you're working on -- I really appreciate it -- through your dinner hour, right?

Now, you begin with one little step, one little beat to the front, one little step sauté and a piqué arabesque.

♪♪ That's it.

♪♪ Good. Okay, good.

Very nice, Maria. Very, very nice.

After you've done the mazurka and the little bourrée, Curdie is going to be coming in upstage left.

♪♪ Okay. Good.

Alright. Good, Benjamin. Very good.

You need to be just a little bit more exaggerated with your action.

When the earth shakes, it needs to be a little bit bigger.

When she hits the ground, it's gotta be, 'Oh, what's happening here?'

Do you know about me?

I'll tell you all about my history.

I grew up working in a drive-in theater from the time I was 8 years old until I went to college.

I saw probably 1,000 cartoons as a young person.

My entire world view is formed on that kind of time and that kind of exaggeration.

♪♪ The family's Quaker.

And they had stringent thoughts about morality and about discipline and responsibility.

My mother was a concert pianist.

She started teaching piano when the war came in order to help support the family.

So she herself had never accomplished as an artist what she wanted to.

And she was never known as an artist.

She, from the get-go, planned that this child of hers was going to accomplish that.

Southern Indiana, the community was very poor.

And my mother determined that her children were not going to get the future she wanted for them.

And she moved the family to Southern California.

She started all of her kids on ear training when we were not even a year old.

By the time I was 2 I was already being taken to a professional children's teacher.

I was playing a children's violin, small violin by the time I was 4.

Whether it was dance or music or percussion or painting or elocution or German, in case we had another war with the Germans I should speak German, French because the ballet is in French.

We needed to speak French.

Typing I can do very well.

Shorthand I had in case all else failed.

My mother always went out of her way to find the very best teachers that she can find.

She ended up driving hundreds of miles every week to have ballet lessons.

And I'm doing my homework by the glove compartment light while we're driving to San Marino, which is 120 miles round trip.

She'd drive it twice or three times a week.

My brothers and sister did have teenage years.

They did go to dances.

They were part of the school activities.

They did have cars.

They learned to drive -- none of these things that I do because I was much too busy being groomed to become something.

I do regret not having had more interaction with young people my age.

Feeling so isolated, pulled away from everybody.

How to relate to other people -- I didn't have lessons in that.

Sometimes I think my mom gave me lessons in everything that's possible in life except how to live life.

♪♪ Good morning, Maria.

Maria, please meet Benjamin. Benjamin, meet Maria.

-Nice to meet you. -Hello. Very nice to meet you.

-One of the big challenges of this whole project and what we're working to do here is establish that people who are as separate as we are can be connected.

And so you have to make the impossible theatrically real.

Now, one thing that's going to help us there is spatial accuracy.

♪♪ And go, Benjamin!

♪♪ Okay. Hold on. Thank you. Yeah. Thatagirl.

Back it off to the edge of your hawk.

Is she going to bow first, or are you, Benjamin?

Which would you say in this kind of character role?

-I should, I think.

-Well, who do you think, Maria?

-I think me.

-She thinks her. Why does Irene bow first?

-Because she was taught all of these manners and she's a very well-behaved girl.

I don't know.

-And why did you think he bowed first, Benjamin?

-Well, because I'm the man. He needs to show her... -There you are. This is our culture.

We live in it.

MacDonald, the author, would say that Curdie bows first because Curdie is lower class.

She's upper-class.

But I like Maria's instinct.

She bows first because she's an independent girl!

See what I'm saying, right?

♪♪ Right on the heels of 'Deuce Coupe,' the Ballet Theater called and said, you know, would I make a piece for Baryshnikov?

♪♪ Baryshnikov was one of the leading male classical dancers of the 20th century.

♪♪ The guy was phenomenal.

His technique was like, 'Wow!'

He was a huge star in Russia, and he'd just defected.

And he hadn't performed in this country yet.

I remember running into Alvin Ailey in one of the elevators somewhere, some dance building, and Alvin just looked at me and he said, 'You're going to write a piece for Baryshnikov.

You're crazy. You're going to be eaten alive.'

There was pressure.

It was big deal in the dance world.

Here's arguably the greatest dancer in the world.

What are you going to do with this guy?

♪♪ There are huge expectations on the part of the audience as to what he should be doing for them.

♪♪ He'd seen me dance before we started to work, which I thought was important because that's what I was going to push him towards.

...a costume for 'Swan Lake,' so that would be good, too.

[ Laughs ] I had to be able to evolve for him a vocabulary that enfolded some of this kind of -- let's just, for lack of a better word, call it slouch.

It's a totally different kind of placement from the classical ballet.

And he was all-in to try to do that.

[ Indistinct conversation ] ♪♪ -Exactly. -Okay. Exactly. Okay.

-Was there any difficulty that you had from adjusting from a classical style to Twyla's style?

-Sure, it was difficult, very difficult, I think.

-[ Chuckles ] -In what way?

-Well, it's her style, her ballet.

It's really hard.

[ Indistinct conversation ] ♪♪ -It's not easy, I think, for dancers who know perfectly modern dance.

Yeah?

-Sometimes. No, that's right. -[ Laughs ] -It's not, but it's -- Um, um... -What? -I don't think that it's any easier or any harder for, you know, a well-trained dancer who's either classical or modern.

[ Indistinct conversation ] ♪♪ [ Conversation continues ] Okay, let's do it this way.

-This movement -- it's not natural for me because I'm born in Russia, you know?

[ Both laugh ] -He actually had just come to this country and he was displaced.

He's Russian, classically trained.

I'm from the Midwest, modern dancer.

You could not have found more disparate elements to try to gather together.

[ Applause ] ♪♪ I took a gamble, and I opened him in a totally unexpected way, with him doing a kind of -- ♪ Da-dya-buh-buh, ya-da-ha ♪ And the audience is going, 'Huh?'

♪♪ ♪♪ And then when the curtain goes up, whack!

♪♪ All he's got!

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ 'Push' was lightning in a bottle.

It was a moment in time.

It could only have happened between the two of us at that point in time, singular.

I was asked to make a duet for a gala with Misha.

I had no experience partnering.

-What are we doing?! -The same thing that we did yesterday.

-No.

-[ Speaking indistinctly ] -Maybe it's possible to just lay there, and you will be in position.

-You're gonna do there? -Yes.

-You're gonna do nothing? -Nothing.

-Yeah, yeah, that's good. I like that.

-[ Laughs ] -Oh, yeah. Oh, I like it.

I love it. It's a good -- -[ Laughs ] -It's good, but it's... -[ Laughing ] Wonderful!

The dynamic that I started doing with partnering was I would partner as much as he partnered.

I would push, he would pull, and so on.

In the classical ballet, traditionally, the woman is more passive, and I started doing equal pressure.

And that's what we actually started working on.

Ah! -Sorry.

-Oh, my God. -Sorry.

-I'm very grateful to Misha that he made the moves to alter his life completely so that I could have the opportunity to work with him.

[ Frank Sinatra's 'One for My Baby' plays ] -♪ We're drinkin', my friend ♪ ♪ To the end ♪ ♪ Of a brief episode ♪ ♪♪ ♪ Make it one for my baby ♪ ♪ And one more for the road ♪ ♪♪ ♪ I got the routine ♪ ♪ Put another nickel ♪ ♪ In the machine ♪ ♪♪ ♪ Feelin' so bad ♪ ♪ Can't you make the music ♪ ♪ Easy and sad? ♪ ♪♪ ♪ I could tell you a lot ♪ ♪ But you've got to be ♪ ♪ True to your code ♪ ♪ Just make it one for my baby ♪ ♪ And one more for the road ♪ ♪♪ -During the course of my career, I've used many different kinds of music.

Every kind of music that moves me, I use it, whether it's pop, whether it's classical, whether it's jazz, whether it's historic.

[ Up-tempo music plays ] [ Indistinct speaking ] ♪♪ [ Horn honks ] I grew up totally exposed to music, practicing it, hearing it, loving it, living in it.

So, having spent five years dancing with no music, I felt that I understood that, and then I could use anything.

[ Up-tempo music playing ] -♪ Harmony and understanding ♪ ♪ Sympathy and trust abounding ♪ ♪ No more falsehoods... ♪ -Milos Forman saw 'Push' and asked if I would like to work on 'Hair.'

-♪ This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius ♪ ♪ Age of Aquarius ♪ ♪ Aquarius ♪ -I was massively over-prepared.

I had done, like, enough choreography for like eight pictures.

I had so many arguments with Milos about every single scene.

I mean, there was the one with the dust storm, which was like 2 degrees outside in December.

I said, 'Milos, you can't shoot in December outside.'

He said, 'It gets warm sometimes.'

So, everybody is out there freezing to death.

It was an agony. It's probably my favorite scene.

-♪ Tricky Dick on LSD ♪ -♪ In the sunshine ♪ -We fly through water and fire, which we actually did because we didn't know any better.

We did all the stunts.

-♪ The sunshine in ♪ ♪ Let the sunshine ♪ -Worked on the script for one year.

We shot for a year. We edited for a year.

It was a long haul.

-♪ The sunshine in ♪ -♪ Hey, would you let the sunshine ♪ ♪ Just let the sunshine in ♪ -♪ The sunshine in ♪ ♪♪ ♪ The sun ♪ ♪ Shine ♪ ♪ In ♪ ♪♪ -[ Breathing heavily ] -I just want to do the crane just one more time.

And it'll just be the -- -[ Breathing heavily ] -The whole thing done again on a different... -I got to have three minutes.

-Got to give Twyla a three.

-Three minutes.

[ Indistinct conversations ] -Okay, it'll take time to move the cameras anyway.

Would you like to get out of the lights?

You think that will be better? -You want to sit down?

-You have enough time. -No, it's okay.

-What do you do to recharge yourself when you work long periods hard?

-Work more. -More work. A work junkie.

When was your last -- -No, that's not fair.

That's not fair.

-Your life is nothing but dance, one is told.

You have no recreations, no side interests.

-Right. -I really have heard this.

Can you throw it all away, take two weeks in the Caribbean or whatever and never think of dance?

-Well, I wouldn't want to. -Yeah.

-I mean, working is a recreation, is what I'm saying.

-You have become kind of a superstar in the dance world.

It's an embarrassing thing to call anybody.

But is there any sense in what you feel the pinch of celebrity or being crowded by it -I try not to pay any attention.

I don't know anything about this.

-But you don't feel the pressures of -- -I just go to the studio in the morning and come out at night.

Tell me about 'Baker's Dozen.'

-In 'Baker's Dozen,' the music is all Willie 'The Lion' Smith.

♪♪ 'Hair' was a very long project.

When that picture was over, I had to reestablish who I was and what the company was.

The company had spent a lot of time rehearsing a lot of material that ended up on the cutting-room floor.

So I took outtakes and combined them with material that I took from improvs that I had done when I was pregnant with Jess.

'Baker's Dozen,' 12 dancers onstage and one in the oven.

♪♪ -Say, there's someone next to you posing as a child.

[ Laughter ] Stand up, young man.

Come to Uncle Dick.

[ Laughter ] Now just sit right up here.

Ohh! [ Laughter ] Chunky little nipper, isn't he? [ Laughter ] What's your name? -You know what my name is.

[ Laughter ] -Are you the kid I was talking to over there?

-Yes.

-It slipped my mind. What is it?

-Jesse. -Is it Jesse?

-Yes. -Jesse, are you a dancer?

I can tell by your highly developed calves and your lovely dance slippers that you're probably not following in Mom's footsteps, at least in those shoes.

-No. [ Laughter ] -Being a dancer, which at the level I've danced at, is a full-time job.

Making dances is another full-time job.

Running businesses is a full-time job.

And could I have cut out from those three full-time jobs 10% to be spending directly with Jess?

I'm not sure that 10% would really have helped Jess.

♪♪ -I don't want to say my childhood was negative.

-Oh? -You know, it was hard, yeah.

It was hard. There was hard stuff.

But there's no guilt.

I don't think you have guilt.

-Oh, I have tons of guilt, honey.

I do.

-You were an executive running a company, and I was cool with that.

But at the same time, I wanted to know who my mom was.

I was definitely on my own.

-You saw me occasionally.

-[ Chuckles ] I saw you.

I saw you light a lot of things on fire in the kitchen.

-Well, I was trying to cook.

-Art kind of was the top of the podium, and then there were people.

Art was what was first.

It was challenging and lonely.

And there were scary things.

But even though you were doing your thing, I was exposed to so much.

And I grew up in this weird world.

♪♪ I grew up around people who were so committed to what they were doing.

I wouldn't go to the theater because I didn't want to be your kid in that world.

Like, I wanted to be your kid, like your kid, like your -- your kid.

♪♪ -When 'The Catherine Wheel' began, it started with the idea that technology could offer a new look at a dancer.

'The Catherine Wheel' has one of the first motion-capture figures.

And it has some sort of video experiments that certainly helped me with the foundation for what we're trying to do in the Zoom stuff.

-'The Catherine Wheel' is the most ambitious work to date by one of the pioneers of contemporary American dance, Twyla Tharp.

-Okay, yeah, now, how are you getting that arm under?

Like, he's actually lifting her leg.

Do it again.

-Her starting point was the legend of St. Catherine, the 4th century martyr who strove to overcome her human failings in pursuit of an almost abstract spiritual perfection.

She's depicted in a non-human electronic form.

Sara is driven by a hopeless ambition to achieve the unattainable discipline and control of this computerized Catherine.

-This seems desirable, that for some reason we should all strive to attain.

So she sets out striving to become a perfect human being, which is the case with many dancers much of the time.

You are never good enough.

You should always be able to do one more pirouette, your elevation always be a little stronger.

Your elevation should always be a little more.

-♪ A great big house with nothing in it ♪ ♪ He comes home, says, 'Now wait a minute' ♪ -I commissioned David Byrne to write the score.

It was his first independent work apart from The Talking Heads.

-She wanted do a full-length, you know, evening-length piece.

That was a big gulp for me. I mean, that's a lot of music.

♪♪ But it was also very exciting for me because she wanted it to be unlike anything people had seen before.

And she wanted it to be on Broadway.

This was kind of putting a stake in the ground and saying, 'Contemporary dance can be on Broadway.'

That's a big deal.

♪ Ah-ah-ah ♪ -I was in the studio all the time, which meant I was rehearsing during the day and then in recording studios with him working at night.

-♪ Think you've had enough ♪ ♪ Stop talking, help us get ready ♪ ♪ Think you've had enough ♪ I could tell that she would drive the dancers pretty hard physically.

These are top-notch, trained dancers, and she would push them to the limits of what they could do physically.

And they'd get there, and she'd push them further and see if they could go further.

-To get through whole evening, it was -- You had to get yourself much more mentally prepared than I've ever had to before.

-Well, it's the longest piece I've ever done and the hardest.

-There was worries of whether we'd get through the evening.

-In the same way that she was driving the dancers, she was driving me, kind of pushing me to raise the level of what I had done.

We got to about a little over an hour's worth of material, and she was asking for more and then more and then more.

-And he just goes, 'Is this it? Am I done yet?'

And I said, 'No.

'Just you go listen to more Bach.

It's going to keep climbing. We're not done yet.'

-I'd never had anyone push me like that before.

Turned out to be really good for me.

♪ And on the second day ♪ ♪ There was nothing else left to do ♪ ♪ Ooh, what a day that was ♪ I got a taste of how a show like this got put together, and watching Twyla manage all that was incredibly influential to me because not too long after that I started working with Talking Heads on staging a show.

And so this was maybe the beginning of me starting to exercise those muscles creatively.

[ Vocalizing ] ♪♪ [ Vocalizing continues ] ♪♪ [ Vocalizing continues ] ♪♪ With 'The Catherine Wheel,' we had become a very large institution.

We were over 20 dancers.

We had a staff of 10 people.

I was doing too many jobs.

I mean, I was doing commercial work on top of touring the company, and at the same time, as I'm doing, you know, this thing for John Curry.

♪♪ ♪♪ -Peter Martins and Twyla Tharp and Lynn Swann.

They're combining, really combining, battle and football.

♪♪ -We had toured Mexico, and there I'd learned about the Aztec ritual sacrifice of humans.

This had a very big impact on the next work.

♪♪ 'Bad Smells' we premiered back to back with... -♪ Softly ♪ -...Frank Sinatra songs.

-♪ I will leave you softly ♪ -In order to support this mechanism, we were doing a very large number of fundraising events, galas, photo shoots, federal subsidies, state subsidy, patronage.

We were touring 150 shows a year over the world.

And I was very fragmented.

A piece of me was doing over here and then these guys are on the road and then these guys are coming back.

Jesse was becoming further distance as I'm bouncing around here.

I was being very, very destructive for myself.

I was going to have to stop working the way I was because this could not be sustained.

It is the irony of success.

They want you to look like what they think you ought to look like.

And it becomes about repetition rather than trying new things.

When I began to make dances, that's what I was doing.

I was making dances.

And now there was no time left to make dances or to work in the studio with dancers, to evolve.

The result of that period -- it should be fine to say that I broke down.

It should be all right to say that.

Anybody would, having that kind of responsibility.

But it's not. It's not okay to say that.

So, how do I say that I kind of failed here?

Because, you know, you want to be everything for everyone.

You can't.

♪♪ ♪♪ So, now, Herman, let's talk about life for a moment here.

Misty, I think, came back too soon from her procedure.

She's out for two weeks.

She has to have an MRI.

-My back does not feel ready.

I'm feeling a lot of pain and decided I needed to take, like, another month off.

She ended up bringing in Charlie.

-Charlie, I'm going to ask you to do me a huge favor.

-I met Twyla through her company.

I was 22 at the time, and this was on the tail end of maybe 60 different auditions.

And they all said that I was way too short and way too fat to be taken seriously.

Twyla said, 'I would love to hire you to be in the touring company.'

A testament to Twyla's open-mindedness is that if someone like Misty Copeland is unavailable to finish choreography, she's not going to say, 'We need to typecast 'and find the exact same type of person to fulfill this.

'Does it provide new interest because that person looks different or is different?'

-[ Laughing ] I got replaced by a short, white, bald man.

[ Laughs ] -I mean, this is the queen of the underworld, but if queens can be kings, then kings can be queens.

[ Computer dings ] This is Charlie Hodges.

He's in L.A.

There it is not quite 8:00 in the morning, so he is working through breakfast.

[ Computer dings ] -Hello?

-Hello, Maria.

Maria is working through dinner hours.

Oh, it's great. We can work around the clock.

Yes.

♪♪ Ooh.

♪♪ ♪♪ Okay, that's the idea.

Time lag here will totally make me crazy, I am sure.

We're like in three totally different times zones.

And I of course expect to see perfect unison.

-Can I do a synchronization test?

Six, seven. [ Laughs ] -Uh, Maria is behind.

One!

We're like four counts out of sync.

Where's the sound? Hold on.

We're having a technical difficulty at the moment.

Can you understand me, sweetie? I have no idea.

-Just got to be able to turn at the right time.

-Okay. -[ Speaking indistinctly ] -Why can I not understand him? I need help.

Maria, can you try to jump forward one count?

Charlie, count.

The problems are manifold.

It's one thing for me to get dancers into unison.

It's another for me to have a character actually convey that they are in love with this character.

And I'm not sure that that is accomplishable.

♪♪ Okay. Pretty good.

Is anybody watching the screen here at the end for our unison phrase?

We're saying, 'Well, really, the spaces join,' and guess what.

Really, they don't.

The problem of getting a dancer to get exactly to the same point in their space that will read exactly the same area that the other one's coming in on so that they actually -- Not going to happen.

♪♪ Oy. I'm not sure that's a good enough entry point.

Uh, I didn't buy that unison.

I did not perceive that it would perhaps be as extreme as this.

I'll see you tomorrow. Thank you very, very much.

Oh, boy.

♪♪ ♪♪ [ Groans ] -I had no idea I would end up working here.

At age 20, I started running budgets, and we ran the tours.

And that was the beginning of my work here.

I've had so many opportunities to experience all of these projects, but in experiencing these projects, I've gotten to know my mom.

We've got a sustainable relationship.

You know, we've gotten to a point where we're solid.

-So, honey. -Yes?

-You know, we have got some real issues here.

I think there's some humongous problems.

I mean, you know, she comes in, in black, then she comes in, in yellow.

One day, Misty's there, and then she's not.

Suddenly, she's Charlie.

I mean, what do we got, a shape-shifter here?

The performers -- all four of them are fabulous, but it's just technical issues.

I mean, you know, plus the thing about all the backgrounds are different.

Nothing feels as though they're in the same space.

I mean, do you buy that these guys are really working together?

I think I like very much that you're able to be together.

I like the intimacy.

Do you feel that you're able to be intimate?

-I agree with that. -This is a whole new territory.

-I don't know, sweetie.

It just is, like, there are so many small flaws.

♪♪ ♪♪ -♪ Well, you've got to prove me wrong ♪ ♪ Hey ♪ ♪ Well, you've got to prove me wrong ♪ ♪ Hey ♪ ♪♪ ♪ You can't tie me down to one place ♪ ♪ There's fire in my feet ♪ ♪ Till I find my home again anywhere on the streets ♪ ♪ Take what freedom... ♪ -'White Knights' was a film that was written for Baryshnikov and a wonderful tap dancer named Greg Hines.

-Whoa! -Yeah.

-And then we could continue somehow from here.

-Yes. Here.

My job was to referee.

The challenge here was that they were both great dancers, but obviously of totally different backgrounds.

One's a tap dancer, and the other's ballet dancer.

Misha can't tap.

Greg doesn't have, you know, a classical technique.

And it was trying to get them somehow so they could work together. -We could do something like... -[ Laughs ] -♪ Da, da, da ♪ -I think we're getting something!

I think it's called the end.

We got the end, guys. [ Laughs ] ♪♪ ♪♪ -At the same time I was working with Misha and Greg, I was improvising in the studio by myself every morning, making new material for a new dance.

♪♪ The company had some really tough times with overloads of one kind and another.

And in order to make another piece, I had to make it differently.

It was a culmination.

'In The Upper Room' is one of those very rare pieces where you just bite the bullet and say, 'I'm going to say it all right here and put it all on the line.'

♪♪ ♪♪ -For 'In The Upper Room,' I began with the deeply grounded movement of earlier works in order to make one piece that took hold of everything that I had learned and felt and experienced and believed, and it was all going into one dance.

♪♪ Phil Glass's music had a very important role in how I heard music for a very long time.

I felt a special kind of power in it, and I wanted to commission Phil to do a score.

♪♪ ♪♪ I've had many great experiences working with many great designers, but two in particular -- Jennifer Tipton and Santo Loquasto -- have worked with me in over 50 pieces.

For 'In The Upper Room,' they make it possible for dancers to materialize out of thin air in front of your eyes.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Once and for all, the notion of the grounded modern world can be joined into the lighter, speedier way of the ballet.

♪♪ All of this would become one work.

♪♪ Great dancers are great athletes, and this is clear in 'In The Upper Room.'

♪♪ Performing it requires a blend of power, grace, flexibility, stamina, speed, and heart.

♪♪ ♪♪ 'In The Upper Room' was wildly popular, and, yes, everyone wanted it to tour.

And it could perform every night of every year for the rest of everybody's lives, but that was not what I wanted to do.

It wasn't what other people needed to do.

The machine had taken over.

We were working for the machine.

We were working for the company.

It wasn't working for us.

We can't fulfill what's being demanded of us.

It had to stop.

The company disbanded, and I went on to do other work.

♪♪ I'd like to begin with -- Charlie is going to be standing in for Misty tomorrow.

Misty is not recovered back.

So Charlie is going to be stone-shoed.

♪♪ Okay, hold it!

Excellent, Charlie and Herman. Very good.

Charlie, you want to be out with the chaîné by the one, okay?

You were going -- You were a hair late getting out.

Alright, not too bad.

Thank you, both of you, very, very much.

[ Breathes deeply ] [ Computer dings] -Hello. Hi, honey. Good morning.

We're gonna in put on a piece of music.

I'm not going to tell you anything about it.

Just do it on the timing you want to use.

♪♪ -I've had very classical training at Vaganova Academy.

I've never done this before.

I'm used to doing, like, all of these arabesques and all of the very strict classical positions.

So, after I finish the rond de jambe... -Yeah. Yep.

Yep, yep, yep.

Right. Now fall. Fall.

That's it! That's it!

Tight! Yes, that's it! Right!

Didn't that feel good, Maria?

It looked good.

♪♪ -Twyla pushed me into making discoveries about myself.

Twyla is really opening the artistic freedom.

-Talk to me. How did that feel?

Unsafe? -It's thrilling in a way.

Like, it's exciting. -Oh, that's good.

-No, it's very interesting for me to explore things like this because I'm always like, you know, like this.

But I want to break free a little bit, you know?

-Right. Okay.

This is one of the things that I would like to be able to impart to you.

Keep your technique for your whole career.

It's beautiful.

Don't ever lose it.

But learn how to work around it.

You pass through academically correct and go somewhere else with it and come back to it.

Alright. Thank you, Maria. -Thank you so much.

-I'll see you soon. -Thank you.

♪♪ -I never stopped working with dancers.

We toured. We made new work.

And in 2002, we were back on Broadway.

-♪ Ooh, uh-huh ♪ ♪ Mm, mm, mm ♪ -I had made some movement on Billy's music, which I showed him.

Billy says, 'I like that. What do you want from me?'

I said, 'All your music.' He said, 'Okay.'

About three hours later, I have every single album he ever made.

I put them in chronological order.

I listened to them from first to last.

I call him up three days later. I said, 'Okay, I have it.'

♪♪ -This is 'Movin' Out,' the first Broadway show starring the magic of Twyla Tharp and the music of Billy Joel.

Call Ticketmaster now.

-♪ Brenda and Eddie were the popular steadies ♪ ♪ And the king and the queen of the prom ♪ ♪ Riding around with the... ♪ -'Sing to me, Muse, of the rage of Achilles.'

It is Odysseus.

So, it is the hero and the hero's return.

So, I heard in Eddie his return after the war, after the Vietnam war, and the steps, the trials he would have to go through were those of the returning warriors, veterans from the Vietnam war and the ways in which this culture basically spat on them.

And that was the spine of 'Movin' Out.'

-♪ Anthony works in the grocery store ♪ ♪ Savin' his pennies for someday ♪ ♪ Mama Leone left a note on the door ♪ And she had a vision in her head about what she wanted.

It was so intense.

It was something I couldn't say no to.

A lot of energy in a small woman, almost intimidating.

And I thought, 'Oh, this is somebody who's --' You don't want to get in the way.

Like, get out of her way.

And that's how the collaboration worked.

I pretty much stayed out of the way, and she ran it.

♪ You get more mileage from a cheap pair of sneakers ♪ ♪ Next phase, new wave, dance craze ♪ ♪ Anyways, it's still rock 'n' roll to me ♪ Alright, here we go!

I'm a songwriter -- I'm literal.

I didn't really know where she was going, how to connect the songs and make it work all as one piece 'cause they're individual songs.

But she was doing an allegory with the lyrics.

And I don't -- That had never been attempted before.

I was scared to death.

But she had the confidence and the vision to know it was going to work.

♪♪ And these people are throwing themselves around the stage.

You know, I was worried about people getting injured.

It was so energetic and so physically demanding.

You know, I felt like, 'Take it easy,' you know?

'Watch out. Watch out for the edge of the stage.'

They were, like, risking life and limb every night.

♪♪ ♪♪ [ Cheers and applause ] -Here I am in this impasse with this Zoom quandary.

We're in all their living spaces, and I'm trying to make theater out of it.

Who else are you going to call but Santo?

-He's here. -Hello.

Santo makes theatrical experiences.

-How you doing?

-We need unity. He'll fix it.

They're in totally different spaces.

That's the biggest problem.

And I'm trying to connect them into a narrative.

If you were doing it properly, they'd all be on the same set, you'd have your crew, you'd have it all set up.

-But it will ultimately be like that?

-No. -Oh, it will remain on Zoom.

-It will remain -- -It remains virtual, as they say.

-It remains virtual.

You don't have a crew. You don't have hair.

You don't have all of the elements.

Your lighting is never going to be comparable.

You are screwed.

Why don't we look at that and see what it actually is?

♪♪ ♪♪ -[ Chuckles ] ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ It's fun. -Oh, you're so cute.

I actually got a chuckle. -It's -- -You warmed my heart. -Well, you know, it's Jewish.

-Yeah, I know it's Jewish. I did know that.

I knew I could bias you that way.

-That's alright. I mean, you know, what can I say?

Irresistible. -Yes.

-Um... -So, you see the issues.

Really, my question is this -- do you feel that it would be more effective if the backgrounds were alike?

If we had a void, which is how we would shoot this if we had them all in one place -- -I love the funkiness of this.

-You do?

Been on Broadway too long.

-It's short. -It's very short.

-I think it will become like early dance in America, if you will.

-Ah! -Oh! [ Laughs ] -We were early dance in America, if you'll recall.

-Oh, that was you! -That was us!

That was you, too!

-But you know what I mean. -I do know what you mean.

-I worry that it looks as though we're trying for something which will be... -Not accomplishable, which is what I wanted to talk to you about.

-No, no, this is -- this is very good because it feels so unedited.

-Okay. -I think it's quite marvelous.

Well, you've been busy.

-[ Laughing ] Thank you. Yeah, right.

♪♪ I have been very busy, very, very busy, for this allows me to be in the company of dancers.

-♪ It's not for me to say ♪ You love me ♪ ♪♪ ♪ It's not for me to say ♪ ♪ You'll always care ♪ ♪♪ ♪ Oh, but here for the moment, I can hold you fast ♪ ♪♪ ♪ And press your lips to mine ♪ ♪ And dream that love ♪ ♪♪ -Dancers give me their hopes and their dreams, and together we work to redefine what is possible, for they will find unimaginable solutions to my dilemmas.

All dancers know that there is only one way out, and that is forward.

-♪ And speaking just for me ♪ ♪ It's ours to share ♪ ♪ Perhaps the glow of love ♪ ♪ Will grow with every passing day ♪ -So I can only say thank you to so many dancers who have sustained my belief in tomorrow.

And thank you for your help in digging us out every single time.

♪♪ Do I feel like overall I've completed my mission?

Not yet.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪

© 2021 WNET. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.