Honoring Twyla Tharp

Federal Room
Indiana Memorial Union
IU Bloomington
Bloomington, Indiana
October 27, 2015

Welcome and Toast

Good evening.

My co-host for this evening, Provost Lauren Robel, and I want to welcome all of you to this dinner to celebrate our guest of honor, a living legend of the art of dance—Twyla Tharp.

First, let me ask you to please join me in expressing our thanks to Ilya Friedberg—who is pursuing a doctoral degree in Indiana University’s renowned Jacobs School of Music under the instruction of Distinguished Professor Menahem Pressler—for his splendid playing this evening.

Tomorrow, as you know, the IU Auditorium, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary season, will host a performance by Twyla Tharp’s spectacular company of dancers as part of the company’s 50th Anniversary Tour. This will be the company’s fourth performance at the IU Auditorium. We also very much appreciate the fact that Ms. Tharp and members of her company are spending time with students in our Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance while they are here in Bloomington.

Honoring Twyla Tharp

Ms. Tharp, as you may know, is a native Hoosier. We are also proud to count her as an IU Hoosier as she holds an honorary doctorate from Indiana University.

While earning a degree in art history at Barnard College in New York, Ms. Tharp took full advantage of the many opportunities for dance training that were available at the time. She took classes—sometimes as many as two or three a day—with legendary teachers including Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham.

After graduating from Bernard, she made her debut as a professional dancer with the Paul Taylor Dance Company.

Very shortly thereafter, she founded the Twyla Tharp Dance Company in 1965 at the age of 23.

She is known for creativity, innovation, and for developing unexpected combinations of movement styles built upon the technical precision of ballet.

She has choreographed more than 160 works, including:

  • 129 dances,
  • 12 television specials,
  • six Hollywood films, including Milos Forman’s Hair and Amadeus;
  • four full-length ballets,
  • four Broadway shows, including Movin’ Out, which featured the music of Billy Joel; and
  • two figure skating routines.

She has received

  • a Tony Award;
  • two Emmy Awards;
  • 19 honorary doctorates, including one from IU;
  • the Vietnam Veterans of America President's Award;
  • the Jerome Robbins Prize;
  • the Kennedy Center Honor; and
  • the National Medal of the Arts, which is the nation’s highest honor for achievement in the arts.

She is a MacArthur Fellow, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Presenting the President's Medal for Excellence

Tonight, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to add to her honors.

Ms. Tharp, would you join me at the podium?

By virtue of the authority vested in me by the trustees of Indiana University, in recognition of your noteworthy achievements in the arts over half a century, and in gratitude for your steadfast commitment to education, I am privileged and honored to present you with the President’s Medal for Excellence.