Shelf Life

How to collaborate and not go crazy

Bill Radke Dec 30, 2009
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Shelf Life

How to collaborate and not go crazy

Bill Radke Dec 30, 2009
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Bill Radke: If you’ve been in the work force for any amount of time, you have been asked to collaborate — break into small groups, lead a team, greater than the sum of its parts. Have you ever thought: I just want to do things my way. Well all of us have to collaborate sometimes — and if you don’t, maybe you ought to.

The great American choreographer, Twyla Tharp, has written a book about collaboration. Good morning.

Twyla Tharp: Good morning.

Radke: You’re here in Los Angeles speaking at a business forum about collaboration. People who don’t know your work might think, a choreographer — you don’t collaborate, you tell the dancers what to do, right?

Tharp: Oh, wouldn’t that be good? I can only do what the dancers do, and the more that I can pull from them, the more that I can do. And I think that that’s kind of a key to collaboration. The first book that I wrote was about doing it by yourself. The Creative Habit is how we go into an empty room, nobody’s there, what do you do to keep from going crazy? The second book is, you go into a room, there are a whole bunch of people there, you start to work — what do you do to keep from going crazy?

Radke: Haha. Well it helps when those people are Mikhail Baryshnikov . . .

Tharp: Well that helps some, though it has its issue. Everybody is different, and for me the key to good collaboration is respect for one’s coworkers. You need to figure out how what you want done is what they want done, and then pretty soon, you’re all hopefully working towards the same goal.

Radke: Is there a story that comes to mind of a lesson you’ve learned that could apply to the work place?

Tharp: This is the story of how I became a choreographer. My siblings were twins. My parents just called them “Stan and Stan,” cause they were identical and they could not tell them apart. So I took Stan and Stan into a room and I started teaching them dancing. And I suddenly realized that I could identify these two boys not by how they looked, but by how they moved. That through looking at people, working with people in movement, I could find identity and definition. And that’s what I still try to do with dancers, is find identity and definition.

Radke: Maybe artists aren’t quite the loners we often assume them to be?

Tharp: To some degree, they are. To some degree, an artist has to know exactly what they want to see and hold out for it, and that can make them quite objectionable as human beings on occasion. On the other hand, a good collaborator also knows who they are.

Radke: Well, you’re one of the best collaborators.

Tharp: Thank you.

Radke: Twyla Tharp is one of America’s most honored choreographers and the author of “The Collaborative Habit.” Twyla, thank you.

Tharp: You’re welcome, thank you.

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