Joffrey's Awesome Graffiti Artist Collaboration

July 19, 2012

Who ever heard of a set design involving live people as part of the decor? That’s what happened in 1973 when Twyla Tharp created her first piece for the Joffrey Ballet. She wanted graffiti-in-the-making for her new ballet Deuce Coupe, so they hired about five street guys to “write” on panels upstage that scrolled up during the performance. With Beach Boys songs blaring, Tharp’s own company of modern dancers mixing with the Joffrey dancers, and five graffiti artists hunched over while spraying their “tags” upstage, this was an amazing mix of “high art” and popular art.

However, the spray cans made breathing difficult for the dancers, so the graffiti set was scotched; so was the mixing of the two companies, for practical reasons. Three years later Deuce Coupe II premiered, with only the Joffrey dancers and a set (in the usual sense) by pop artist James Rosenquist. The original Deuce Coupe was thusly sanitized, and that is the version we see today. This photo, with Christine Uchida in center, is one of the few that exist of the first version.  

Update: The Joffrey Ballet comes to Jacob’s Pillow August 22–25. —Wendy Perron


Tharp’s Deuce Coupe, with the Joffrey Ballet plus Tharp dancers, and artists from United Graffiti Artists creating the backdrop. Herbert Migdoll, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.