Twyla Tharp, truncation, and more

It starts with a New Yorker Talk of the Town piece (July 6th & 13th), “The Horde” (by Claudia Roth Pierpont), about a Twyla Tharp performance. That led me to my files, where Tharp’s piece “Push Comes to Shove” came up because of the truncation in its title. And then to other Tharp dances in my experience. And to Tharp’s first name.

Tharp in a recent photo:

The New Yorker piece. It begins:

“The cane is good,” Twyla Tharp said to a middle-aged man who had presented himself for her inspection. He was one of some hundred people of varying ages and shapes who showed up at a storefront space in Battery Park City on a humid Saturday afternoon with the intention of performing as a dancer that very night. For eleven seconds, precisely—Tharp is nothing if not precise, although she did concede that there would be a few seconds more of glory if one counted the time spent taking a bow.

Tharp, one of the great choreographers of the modern age, is celebrating her fiftieth year of making dances with a program of new material and, come fall, will take a company of dancers on a ten-week tour that culminates at Lincoln Center. But first, in a look back at her past, she was staging “The One Hundreds,” an experimental work from 1970, a moment when ordinary people, doing ordinary moves, had transfixed the dance avant-garde. Tharp was then a powerful dancer who, despite her avant-garde bona fides, loved working with other powerful dancers, and she gave this sixties populism a twist. “The One Hundreds” opens with two trained dancers performing a hundred rehearsed movement sequences of eleven seconds each, in unison, without looking at one another; they are followed by five dancers, each performing a different twenty of those movements, simultaneously, and, finally, by an onrush of a hundred ordinary folk, each of whom performs one of the eleven-second phrases. Tharp has called the piece “a study in deterioration.”

Background on Tharp, from Wikipedia:

Twyla Tharp (…born July 1, 1941) is an American dancer, choreographer, and author who lives and works in New York City. In 1966, she formed her own company Twyla Tharp Dance. Her work often utilizes classical music, jazz, and contemporary pop music.

… In 1973, Tharp choreographed Deuce Coupe to the music of The Beach Boys for the Joffrey Ballet. Deuce Coupe is considered to be the first crossover ballet. Later she choreographed Push Comes to Shove (1976), which featured Mikhail Baryshnikov and is now thought to be the best example of the crossover ballet.

… Tharp was born in 1941 on a farm in Portland, Indiana, the daughter of Lucille and William Tharp. She was named for Twila Thornburg, the “Pig Princess” of the 89th Annual Muncie Fair in Indiana. [Tharp’s parents were given to choosing extraordinary names for their chidren.]

Truncation. I vaguely recalled having posted somewhere on Tharp. Indeed I had, in connection with her dance Push Comes to Shove. In 2010 on ADS-L. From Ben Zimmer on 2/26/10:

The latest OED draft entry for “push” has “if/when push comes to shove” from 1940. Some earlier cites (the first three are from “The Week,” by Defender columnist Roscoe Simmons): [1924, 1926, 1931, 1932, 1935, 1937]

That same day I replied (with minor editing of the text here):

There are also instances of truncated “push comes to shove”, with no overt “if/when”. Huge number of examples in titles (the Twyla Tharp dance, for example), but some in text:

The United States has no national interests in Georgia; Russia does. Push comes to shove, we won’t go to war for Georgia and should therefore not indicate or imply that we would, it makes the Georgian’s take excessive risks. (link)

There are also instances of headlines where what’s conveyed is ‘push has come to shove’:

Push comes to shove in Pa. budget process (link)

(That last example is just the usual omission of auxiliary verbs in headlines.)

My files have some other truncations of initial material in formulaic expressions. For example:

the fuck for what the fuck (posting here)

for me for as for me (posted on ADS-L 9/13/11)

safe than sorry for better safe than sorry (not previously posted)

longer term for in the longer term (not previously posted)

best (as) I can VP for as best (as) I can VP (not previously posted)

Truncations of final material are much more common, but truncations of initial material do occur. There are also omissions of initial material that look like separate phenomena from these initial truncations: in particular, omissions of subjects (Just saw Harry) and omissions of initial definite articles (Thing is, I can’t speak Polish).

Tharp dances. Tharp had a residency at the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State in 1991, so my man Jacques and I got to see her perform right on campus. In one of her performances, she discussed her choreographic process and illustrated the relationship of music and dance by using the same choreography with two contrasting pieces of music (“Fever,” sung by Buddy Guy, and “Java Jive,” sung by the Ink Spots).

These pieces then went on the road as an introduction to her work “In the Upper Room” (with music by Phillip Glass), in a program entitled “Oppositions” — a 1996 performance of which was broadcast on PBS (and is preserved in the American Archive of Public Broadcasting).

Tharp’s name. Note the story above about the origin of the name Twyla in the Wikipedia article — as a variant of Twila. But where does Twila/Twyla come from?

Here the websites on name origins are a complete morass. Most of the proposals — ‘woven with a double thread’ (twined or twisted); ‘twilight’; a Cajun pronunciation of French étoile ‘star’ — look like guesses based on the form of the name, and the occasional suggestion of an Amerindian origin (without any specific details) looks like appealing to native Americans as the source of things that are otherwise obscure. Some of the name sites say that the name appeared in the US in the late 19th century, but give no documentation about the context.

So we have a question that calls for someone with the resources to scour documents from the relevant period and knowledge of the cultural context, and unfortunately I’m not such a person.

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