Bucksbaum crowd treated to Twyla Tharp’s take on creativity

Renowned dancer, choreographer and writer Twyla Tharp took a creative approach to presenting the 26th Martin Bucksbaum Distinguished Lecture to a crowd of about 1,000 at Drake University’s Knapp Center on Monday evening.

The author of books on creativity and collaboration started by sharing some of the insights she’s gained during her more than 45 years in dance.

Twyla Tharp spoke on creativity and collaboration.

“Creativity is something we often think of as God-given gift and if you don’t have it, you’re not going to have it,” she said. “I don’t believe that to be true. I believe we all are creative and I believe that we all can increase our creativity by certain practices addressed daily.”

She added that these practices, detailed in her book “The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life,” can help individuals overcome the fear and paranoia that often stifle creative endeavors.

To illustrate this point, Tharp invited an audience member who was experiencing a case of writer’s block to join her on stage. Monica Worsley of Cary, Ill., a first-year student majoring in magazines and international relations, quickly accepted. She told Tharp that, among other things, she was intimidated by writing an article about that evening’s lecture for her Writing and News Reporting class.

Tharp invited audience members onstage to help her illustrate a point.

Tharp instructed Worsley to sit down on the stage, pull her knees up to her chin, lower her head to her knees and maintain that position until Tharp told her to move.

Then Tharp called for another volunteer — someone with an extremely large handbag. She selected Jo Anne Reed of Colfax, Iowa, and instructed her to stand near Worsley and dump the entire contents of her handbag onto the floor, then rearrange all the items.

Tharp told the audience she was seeing a circular geometric pattern emerge, and Reed confirmed that’s what she was thinking.

“There you go,” Tharp said. “That’s called art. That’s called communication.”

After another rearranging of the objects, Tharp explained that the exercise of rearranging is a metaphor for finding ways to get out of a creative rut. Then the choreographer turned her attention to Worsley, who had been bobbing her head up and down as she struggled to remain curled up in the shape of an egg.

When Worsley confessed that instead of thinking about getting started on her writing she was trying to memorize what Tharp was saying, Tharp playfully admonished: “You let education get in the way of your learning.”

“What is an egg?” Tharp asked the audience. When no one ventured an answer, she supplied one: “It’s a thing in progress, a thing that is not always the same.”

“That’s why I put you in the egg position,” she told Worsley. “When you set out to do something and have trouble getting started because you know it won’t be perfect, you should think of the egg. It keeps evolving and changing.”

Tharp advised Worsley to approach an assignment assuming she would get an A and to expect it would work, even though it might not be perfect.

“I think she is right,” Worsley said after the lecture. “The best work a person can expect comes when you don’t place too much expectation on the outcome. Perfection is not attainable, but satisfaction with one’s best work is. I really enjoyed participating and considering the advice Ms. Tharp had to offer about expending as much effort as possible in one’s actions, accepting failure, and being passionate about one’s creations.”

In addition to giving the Bucksbaum Lecture, answering questions from the audience and participating in a book signing, Tharp joined in a question-and-answer session with about 45 students Monday afternoon. The students queried her about her career, next major project, workout routine, and advice for artists just starting out.

Tharp’s interaction with the students received a rave review from Makha Mthembu, a senior acting major from Johannesburg, South Africa.

“There are few women in the arts who have accomplished as much as she has,” Mthembu said. “I liked her simplicity, her frankness. She made it clear that if you want something, you need to figure out how to make it happen and just do it. In short, talk less, do more.”

The next Bucksbaum Lecture will feature author, humorist and radio host Garrison Keillor. His lecture, which is free and open to the public, will start at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 25, in the Knapp Center.

— Lisa Lacher

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