Patsy Tarr is really dedicated to her passion: The world of dance. She produces the extraordinary dance-related magazine 2wice that appears twice a year. It was a delight to interview someone who was so unselfconsciously engaged in something that she clearly loves with all her heart. She displayed a kind of shining, joyous enthusiasm that barely anyone can maintain beyond the age of 40, and it occurred to us how rare this quality actually is. She said she was nervous about the interview, and she was a little jittery at first but she does have well thought out opinions on most things and had no problem articulating them. She has very distinct taste, finding designers that she likes and sticking with them. Much of her San Remo apartment is designed by Salvatore LaRosa and she has a closet bursting with vibrant Geoffrey Beene clothes, clothes that only a confident woman can really pull off.
Have you seen any of the other columns we have done? It’s meant to be mainly conversational in tone.
I did look at them. I confess ever since I got the call, I’ve done nothing but stare at your website … but every time I read one I kept thinking: ‘Why am I doing this? Maybe I should just cancel.’
Did it make you nervous?
Well, you know I’m going to turn 60 and I swear to you (I suspect you two are not yet there), and you just get to a point and it’s like ‘why?’ You just want to have what you have and you don’t care if the rest of the world knows about it.
So why did you agree?
Well because I’ve spent all these years trying to get some publicity for this little publication [her magazine 2wice] and I just keep thinking, I have this fabulous thing and I want to get out there and talk about it. We only publish twice a year and in the world of publishing we’re really humble and tiny but we do a really good job and it’s been impossible to tell that story.
What is that story? Maybe we can tell it.
Well, there is this periodical called 2wice. The idea originally goes back to when I had [a previous magazine] Dance Ink, which was funded by the Dance Ink Foundation, and the idea was that the foundation was going to give out grants to dancers and choreographers, and then it was going to go one step further by giving them greater visibility by publishing them into a really high end magazine. It was going to be this two-pronged philanthropic effort. But technology has changed everything so dramatically. But now the Internet is so ubiquitous. You really cannot compete with the Internet. I mean it’s not just pictures but they can compete with video. I mean frankly even I am addicted to YouTube … hours go by! I think to myself I can’t believe I’m wasting all this time looking at other people’s shitzus … but I do feel that 2wice is so beautifully designed and we do win every single prize. I don’t collect them I just let Abbott [Miller] the art director take them. He designs it and he deserves it.
What has drawn you particularly to dance rather than any other art form?
Honestly I really don’t know. I have wondered about that myself. Partially I got into it through some of the philosophy. (I studied philosophy.) In the case of Merce Cunningham, he has a philosophy about dance that is so interesting and it never ceases to be interesting. I swear to you on a daily basis I spend hours thinking about this stuff. I have this very close friend, a dance critic, and my husband can tell you, she and I must spend three hours a day talking about these ideas.
What are these ideas then?
Well, the reason I thought we should sit here is so that I can show you this Rauschenberg …[a real one, on the wall behind where we are sitting. She gets up and stands beside it like a docent] and try to explain these ideas to you so that you can get a little sense of how compelling they are. This painting is called a ‘shiner’ because it’s painted on aluminum. And Merce Cunningham and Rauschenberg were artistic colleagues … the idea behind some of these paintings is that every time somebody stands in front of it they are slightly reflected in it, and therefore every time you look at this painting this painting changes. This painting is never the same.
There is always a chance intervention … and Merce Cunningham took that idea and he simply applied it to his own choreography. And because of the nature of choreograpy, it was hard to get an element of chance into the choreography. So what he did was that he had everything created independently, sound, the set design, the costumes … and then at the moment of performance it was decided at which moment these elements would come together, decided in a variety of ways: ( I know this sounds a little loony) but it was decided by consulting the I Ching, by throwing dice … so the work constantly changes because Merce forces a chance intervention.
Can you force a chance intervention – isn’t that a contradiction?
Well, that’s a very good question. He is very serious about this. This is not just a casual thing. He has a great deal of integrity in working out the chance procedures.
But it’s very artificial.
No, it isn’t because what he’s really interested in are the aesthetic possibilities. He’s not interested in the finished product.
How open is he to real chance? What happens if half the company falls ill with food poisoning?
Absolutely! Absolutely! Whatever it is, he’s always working with whatever he’s got to work with.
Dance is such a punishing discipline.
Oh you said it! [laughs] Boy is it!
What’s the difference between chance and improvisation?
Improv is much more calculated. That comes from you – chance comes from the outside … may I just also say, and I want to say this loudly into your tape recorder: I am mostdefinitely NOT a Merce Cunningham scholar … there are dance critics lined up around the planet who would be happy to try and explain better!
What dance performance have you seen lately that you loved?
Well last week I spent two nights at the New York City Ballet, which was absolutely fantastic. I’ve just been sitting there in awe … I actually dislike narrative ballets. I like abstraction. The stories are schmaltzy and hammy. I’m really only interested in movement.
Why did you choose to study philosophy?
The truth is, I was an English major and I had to take a course in all Shakespeare … and the course just killed me [laughs loudly] … just killed me! I just couldn’t get through. And I switched because I mistakenly thought philosophy was going to be easier! [still laughing] … and it ended up being so much harder …it was all about proof … it was like math!
In a lot of what you say, you take care to sound self-deprecating or you soften it with laughter, but it strikes me that you have very strong ideas about what you like and don’t like.
Call Dr. Freud! I don’t know! [giggles]
Did you ever train as a dancer yourself?
I did! I trained with Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis. I did make it on stage once in summer stock at the Gateway Playhouse in Long Island! This was a really long time ago. I was just a chorus person.
Do you still dance at all?
Well I spent the weekend hanging out at Twyla’s [Tharp] you know, dancing with Twyla. But that’s just for fun.
What do you mean ‘dancing with Twyla?’ I have an image of you and her flitting around her living room.
That’s exactly what we did. May I tell you I can barely move. I had a really great experience there last week also … one night I went up to her home and had dinner with her. She has a studio in her apartment and she showed me some choreography that she was working on and she had lots of monitors that run video tape of dancers. And she has, of course, an incredible sound system, with the speakers on top of a bookcase, and she loves loud, powerful music, so the music was just blaring out of the speakers. And this big monitor was moving, and she started moving, and I looked up and she has a lot of pottery, and all the pottery on the top of her bookcase started vibrating …and I stood there and I thought ‘Oh my God! The whole place is moving! Even the pots are dancing!’
It was such an overpowering moment, I almost started to cry.
• by Sian Ballen and Lesley Hauge
• photographs by Jeff Hirsch
If you’d like to learn more about 2wice, click here