'Come Fly Away' with Twyla Tharp

Studio 360

This story originally aired on PRI's Studio 360. For more, listen to the audio above.

Twyla Tharp, the best known choreographer in American dance today, is back on Broadway with a new musical. "Come Fly Away" is danced entirely to the music of Frank Sinatra, one of Tharp's earliest musical inspirations.

"I have listened to some of these songs literally thousands of times by now," she said, "and I still feel that there is an emotional content in them that matches the musical ability the man had."

"Come Fly Away" is set in a night club, with dancers performing to a live orchestra on stage. Four couples tell stories of love, loss and life through Sinatra classics like "That's Life," "Fly Me to the Moon," "My Funny Valentine" and "My Way." Like many of her other productions, this show's story and dialog is told through music and dance.

From a very young age, Tharp studied entertainment in the way people moved. She grew up in southern California, working in a drive-in theater her parents owned. While working, she says, she watched many of the films without sound, "so I learned to read action."

Now in her 60s, Tharp is thinking about how and where her work will be performed in the years to come.

"I'm very involved with archiving and with education," she said. "I often say dance is the only art form without an artifact ... dance has a huge, long history, but it's not been recorded nor documented."

Tharp began a video archive in 1969, and her extensive collection now consists of thousands of tapes.

"Come Fly Away" is currently playing at the Marquis Theater in New York.

Tharp's work first appeared on Broadway in 1980. In 2003, she won a Tony Award for her Billy Joel musical, "Moving Out."

PRI's Peabody Award-winning "Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen" from WNYC is public radio's smart and surprising guide to what's happening in pop culture and the arts. Each week, Kurt Andersen introduces you to the people who are creating and shaping our culture. Life is busy — so let "Studio 360" steer you to the must-see movie this weekend, the next book for your nightstand, or the song that will change your life.

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