The ballet and the music of In the Upper Room: an interview with Jesse Huot

Ahead of our mixed programme Polarity & Proximity opening next week at Sadler's Wells we were lucky enough to speak to Jesse Huot (Twyla Tharp’s son and the Chief Executive of Tharp Productions) about Twyla and her most popular ballet, In the Upper Room.

This interview by Lee Armstrong is taken from a longer piece that will be available exclusively in the programme for the performance, available for sale at tour venues. 


What is Tharp Productions?

It focuses on two primary objectives. Firstly to give Twyla the resources she needs to make new works. The second is the preservation of the existing work and I would consider the licensing part of that preservation. We do a lot of video editing too. For example, for In the Upper Room (1986), we have film of Twyla in the studio, on her own, working on the Glass music, developing each phase of every section of the ballet. We also have dancers rehearsing, describing different movements.

Where did In the Upper Room come from?

I’m not sure it came from anywhere. There was a tremendous accumulation of material for In the Upper Room; it was the culmination of many years working very closely with a particular group of dancers, and all the different dance forms she had used until then. It references and represents so many pieces that pre-date it, so it’s not only become one of her most popular ballets, but it’s also a very important piece in her output.

Does Twyla's musical training influence her choreography?

Very much so. She has perfect pitch and played viola and piano – in fact she was going to be a concert pianist, but obviously didn’t take that route. She very much understands the structure of music, so she can take the architecture of a piece of work, or musical technique, and apply it to dance, such as in The Fuge (1970). It’s quite rare for a choreographer to be trained like that; it allows her to fully understand how what she does will interact with the musical score.

Was the music commissioned specially?

Yes it was. There was a period when Twyla commissioned a lot on new music. She hears a lot, as she has relationships with music companies who send her stuff to listen to. She already knew Phil’s (Philip Glass’s) other music as she’d been working with it in the studio.

A lot of Twyla’s work is based on close collaboration, as well as preparation and
understanding, and this is no different; she really takes the time to get to know her
collaborators and their work. Having heard a lot of Phil’s music, I should imagine she was able to say, ‘I think this section needs a tempo like this, or a structure like that’. The costume situation was similar. I don’t know Norma Kamali well myself, but I know she and Twyla have a fantastic friendship. Norma has done four or five ballets for Twyla.

Listen to Philip Glass's incredible score here:

Want more? You can read the full interview in the show programme , which can be purchased at both Sadler's Wells or Birmingham Hippodrome before or during the show.