In 1992 Twyla Tharp created Sextet, a virtuosic work for three couples, who enter and exit, moving with a special kind of abandon unique to Twyla’s extraordinary corps of dancers. I’m not sure why she decided to replace Bob Telson’s score for the piece (which I liked very much), but in 1993 she commissioned me to write new music.
Working with Twyla was both exhilarating and a little scary – I was young, and she was exacting, the embodiment of not suffering fools gladly. The assignment required me to compose six musically diverse sections - ‘60s rock, Flamenco, Souza-esque, intense Latin, a couple that defied genre categorization - matching the form of the prior score beat for beat, and measure for measure. How exacting was Twyla, you ask? Pretty fucking exacting. Weeks into the collaboration, I asked her if it might be possible to extend one of the six dance sections by four measures, which would allow me to recapitulate the main theme in a way that paid off musically and dramatically. After an excruciating silence, Twyla asked, “You want me to… extend the dance?” Had my suggestion involved, say, the substitution of elephants in pink tutus for her exquisite dancers, I doubt her incredulity could have been any greater. That comically awful moment aside, Sextet remains one of the highlight experiences of my career, along with the thrill of seeing/hearing the finished piece performed in New York’s City Center on a bill with her Philip Glass collaboration, “In The Upper Room.”