SXSW Film Review: Twyla Moves

An intimate and fiercely entertaining dance with a legend

SXSW 2021 Visions selection Twyla Moves

When the Coronavirus pandemic flattened the world’s stages to the narrow confines of Zoom, dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp embraced the opportunity to traverse new territory in her discipline.

In Twyla Moves, director Steven Cantor chronicles Tharp as she choreographs her first virtual ballet, interspersing contemporary footage with a thrilling recounting of her dynamic, decades-long career.

At 79, Tharp remains an unparalleled force of creative vision. From her studio in New York, Tharp invites four dancers to rehearse from their homes, dancing synchronously in time zones spanning dawn to dusk. As she demonstrates the choreography, her aging body jolts with energetic verve and her wispy white hair drifts in her wake. After the “meeting” ends, Tharp sometimes massages a sore knee or ices an aching muscle; once, she rolls unreservedly on a blue yoga ball. These glimpses of Tharp’s vulnerability add refreshing dimension to a figure defined by physical fearlessness and intensity. Cantor allows us to see the artist immersed in her work, before the lights, music, and costumes buff out the blemishes.

Tharp’s career shattered the limitations of dance performance. The documentary compiles clips of her work from 1963 to the present, including her immersive avante garde dances in Central Park, the three-year production of Hair, and numerous collaborations with the likes of Mikhail Baryshnikov, Billy Joel, and Philip Glass. It’s clear that Tharp not only fostered experimental approaches in dance but also new standards of inclusion in the industry. By decisively populating her dance company with individuals ranging in physicality and background, Tharp changed perceptions of who can be a dancer and how they can move. Yet her insistence on pushing her collaborators to the brink of physical and creative exertion distinguishes her from others. When the unimaginable limits are reached, Tharp routinely asks for more, lovingly, like a benevolent enchantress summoning the rare and precious from inside each of them.

Twyla Moves highlights a figure whose legacy continues to be charted. Both intimate and fiercely entertaining, this story collages the past and present of one of the most innovative artists of our time.

Twyla Moves


World Premiere

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