Dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp is known for her talent, but she also has a palpable distaste for celebrity theatre. A terrible interview, and by that I mean an incredible interview, and he is on an episode of “PBS Arts Talk” which is currently airing on his website. pbs.org and will begin airing on WTTW later this month.
Too bad the other parts are so traditional. Beautiful. So what’s wrong with this boring, utilitarian title?
A rotating series of presenters take the helm, and all but journalist Ann Curry are artists (more on that in a moment). Ballet dancer Misty Copeland is directing the Tharp episode, and it’s remarkable because it offers a clue as to what a show this might have been if the parties in front of and behind the camera had shown more interest in finding this topic (sorry for writing on MTV here). Find out what happens when people stop being nice and start being realistic.
Tharp doesn’t play by the usual rules, especially when it comes to one celebrity interviewing another. He is neither hot nor proud to be here. He is open to most questions but turns down others. They have work to do to say and Copeland’s sweet, attentive and respectful demeanor contrasts sharply with the choreographer’s sharp impatience. Copeland is not stunned by Tharp’s personality. They had worked together before. He knows the drill.
“I had a unique upbringing,” Tharp tells her. “I had a mother who was determined that I could Something in this life. So I had a lot of preparation, lots of dance lessons of all kinds, so I had a hungry body. When she moved to New York to dance professionally, she quickly realized that existing companies were not for her. “If I was going to dance, I would have to do the dances because no one else could put up with me.” I laughed. Tharp has no illusions about who he is.
Copeland asks what inspires you? This is a banal question. So is Tharp’s answer: Love. But then he adds a detail and it gets interesting: “I have to like the dancer, then it’s okay.” It’s a personal situation with Tharp. He doesn’t just create, he creates for someone.
Joffrey Ballet was the first to hire him as a choreographer. The piece “Deuce Coupe”, which premiered in 1973 to the music of the Beach Boys, combined classical ballet with what Tharp called “popular social dance.” He describes his group as “street rioters” and says the Joffrey dancers initially resisted, mocking and thinking that Tharp’s choreography could not qualify as dance. “So I said, ‘Never mind, it’s a jump, so you jump higher than I can. Let’s go now.’ And this is how you do it. You create a common denominator that everyone can approach in their own way.”
Copeland: “You really broke the distinction between modern dance and ballet.”
Tharp: “Well, look – sorry to interrupt, honey – I didn’t think that was ‘breaking’ anything. I thought of adding this. I thought of it as growing things, not advancing.hit, I don’t like you – you’re out!’ ‘Oh, are you okay with that? let’s use HE”
The rest of the season (there are seven episodes in total) is never matched by that kind of prickly energy. These often tend to be mutual fawning exercises; It’s all bad when Emmy winner Henry Winkler interviews late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel. But the series has been generalized as a mistake and interviews are all over the place for focus.
There are interesting anecdotes from time to time. Elvis Costello tells musician Rhiannon Giddens: “I feel strongly that the melodies pop into the mind.” music playing in a cafe and announcements that sound like music or sounds like rhythm – and I’ll try to get somewhere and hum something into the phone to catch it.
Singer-songwriter Seal tells Winkler about the origins of his first hit, “Crazy,” and takes a philosophical approach to how difficult it is to break into the music industry: “The fact that most of these companies are called record companies is coincidental. I realized they were investors looking for returns. And like any investor group, you need to find out if this thing is going to make money.”
The hosts are willing enough. But casting nonprofessionals into the interviewer role reveals how much of that is a skill that most people lack. Being successful in your field doesn’t mean you can start an interesting conversation with someone.
Ann Curry is is His interview with Min Jin Lee, a seasoned journalist and, oddly enough, “Pachinko” writer, doesn’t solve any of these issues. Curry is an odd choice, given the fact that other presenters have artists who connect to this level of interview subjects. Too much of the “dateline” training and pace gets in the way of what should have been a looser, more conversational interaction, and the episode feels particularly disconnected from the rest. Why not bring a writer friend to talk to Lee instead?
Other episodes include Copeland meeting with painter and Chicago native Nathaniel Mary Quinn and Giddens interviewing Broadway star Brian Stokes Mitchell.
The Winkler-Kimmel episode sounds like a huge misstep; rather, it’s closer to what you usually see when one celebrity interviews another. Too much: “You’re amazing.” “NO, you Great.”
But Winkler asks an interesting question: “Some people aren’t made to be on talk shows. What’s that like?” Kimmel’s response was a fling, but perhaps also revealing why she’s survived the mundaneness of her career: “I really want guests to leave the chair feeling like they’re doing well.”
Namely, taking care of his celebrity ego.
This rarely makes for an interesting interview or exchange of ideas.
“PBS Arts Talk” — 2 stars (out of 4)
Where to watch: pbs.org/show/pbs-arts-talk and on WTTW from September 18
Nina Metz is a Tribune critic.