"Howling near Heaven", by Marcia Siegel, should be the definitive book about Twyla Tharp's work (up to the early 2000s and Movin' Out), and I'm not sure why it has so few reviews both on Amazon.com and on Goodreads, except that it got a bad review in the New York Times, and in 2006 when the book was first published, it was harder than now to reach readers if the powers-that-be decided they did not like your book.
I read "Howling near Heaven" right after reading Tharp's autobiography and Siegel's restrained tone was refreshing, as well as her focus on Tharp's professional life. She mentions Tharp's first abortion in a single sentence, something - if I recall correctly - along the lines that Tharp had begun experimenting with throwing eggs on the floor "after her 1966 abortion." If you blink or daydream at the wrong time, you've missed it. The second abortion is never mentioned. William Kozmas, who was at the receiving end of some of Tharp's less flattering passages in her book, is discussed in the most professional terms - Siegel even suggests that he may not have been Tharp's lover after all, contrary to the very strong impression I got.
Because Siegel's book does not discuss Tharp's personal life, this is not the sort of book where we are shown how a genius's personal life informs her professional one. Yet, because the tone is calmer, it is easier to absorb the information on the dances, rather than brace oneself for the next iceberg in Tharp's personal life. Of course, between learning about Tharp's life from Tharp herself or learning from a third party, it seems a better choice to learn directly from Tharp. Yet, Tharp's book has weaknesses, as described in my previous post, and Siegel's book is more detailed and extensive.
Ideally, someone would find a way to combine the two books, but that would not solve a key problem: Tharp is a pioneer in a field based on movement, not on written words on the page. Film is therefore a much better medium to convey who she is and how she has innovated. Sadly, people write autobiographies but can't make self-documentaries (they need film professionals, whom they may not have access to). But maybe the celebration surrounding Tharp's 50th anniversary tour would provide the perfect opportunity for a film crew to follow Tharp around, if that's not already being done.
Tharp has been savvy enough to hire a social media manager to build up excitement on Twitter and Facebook for the dancers who will take part in the 50th anniversary tour, releasing one name a day with a short profile. But I worry about what will happen to her dances in twenty or thirty years. Other modern dance companies, such as Alvin Ailey or Paul Taylor, are set up to operate past their founder's death, and in the Ailey case we see that the company is now doing well, although it has had rocky moments. Every year those companies have a New York City season, and tour key metropolitan areas or abroad. (I discovered the Paul Taylor Company when they stopped in Paris for their tour, and caught them again outside DC at the University of Maryland College Park. I would not have known about them otherwise.) It is not clear to me how Tharp plans to secure her legacy. She may not care to have her dances produced after her death - maybe a better homage would be for new choreographers to incorporate her techniques into their own work. But that still requires her dances to be shown today. The Paul Taylor Company programs all its dances in its New York City season, and Alvin Ailey always shows its signature piece at the end of its program on the road. Now more than ever, I'd love to know what Tharp is planning to do to ensure her work was not in vain. (Or perhaps she is not planning to do anything and it is ok with her if her work disappears from the collective memory? There isn't even a DVD recording on Amazon.com of her recent musicals Movin' Out or Come Fly Away.)
As much as I love books, we are well into an era where story-telling can be done in other media than books, and sometimes far more powerfully. Maybe it would be worth it for Tharp to explore new ways to tell her story and share her dances to ensure her contributions to the world of dance aren't completely forgotten twenty years from now.