15 Years, 15 Artists, 15 Works

To kick off 2015, we asked 15 leading choreographers working in the U.S. to choose what they see as the most influential work of the past 15 years. Their selections highlight a slice of the creativity witnessed in the past decade and a half—and offer insight into what drives their own artistic choices.

 

Julie Tolentino in Raised by Wolves. Photo by Yongho Kim, Courtesy Tolentino.

David Roussève

Julie Tolentino’s Raised by Wolves, 2013

In a virtuosic tour-de-force that included choreography, improvisation and vocal incantations, Tolentino created an intimacy so potent that it was both frightening and exhilarating. This installation included a solo performed 50 times over a few weeks for an audience of no more than five in the Commonwealth & Council gallery in Los Angeles. It influenced me not just on how to make dances, but how to be an artist. It was a reminder of why I do what I do: to takes risks, to speak directly about the most complex issues of the human condition, and to try to do so in a wholly original way.

 

 

Bel in Cédric Andrieux, Photo by Marco Caselli Nirmal, Courtesy Bel.

Allison Orr

Jérôme Bel’s Cédric Andrieux, 2009

The end had me in tears as Cédric sang along with The Police’s “Every Breath You Take.” I felt so seen and understood as a dancer throughout the piece. I wanted to continually stand up and say, “See, this is what it is like!” And at the end, when Cédric looked at all of us, with no dancer gaze, just as a human being, I thought, This is exactly why I make dances: So I can get to this moment.

 

 

 

Ordinary Witnesses, Photo by Ian Douglas, Courtesy NYLA.

Jonah Bokaer

Rachid Ouramdane’s Ordinary Witnesses, 2009

This rare, powerful work attempts to bear witness to events of human suffering in history. But it also achieves an aesthetic coup by using understated and intelligent staging in a documentary form of dance theater. I feel Rachid is posing an existential question: Can dance and choreography even have the criteria to address these issues? This work tilts the conversation of choreographic content, quite radically, into new directions.

 

 

 

 

Merce Cunningham Dance Company in 2011’s Park Avenue Armory Events, Photo by Stephanie Berger, Courtesy Park Avenue Armory.

Brian Reeder

Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s farewell performance, 2011

The final shows of the Cunningham company at the Park Avenue Armory, which included his 2009 Nearly Ninety, were a profound reminder that artists can keep forever growing through all points of their creative journey, regardless of age. The scope/size of the space and the amount of dance vocabulary being shared from the several stages set up—and the magnitude of importance of Merce’s work—was beyond anything I have witnessed.

 

 

Urban Bush Women in Walking with Pearl...Southern Diaries, Photo by Ayano Hisa, Courtesy UBW.

Liz Lerman

Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s Walking with Pearl suite (Africa Diaries, 2004; Southern Diaries, 2005)

In this piece, Jawole Zollar mined histories of dance, a people and a place. Using collective and personal narratives with dancing that’s both fierce and intimate, she’s influenced generations of artists. She’s made a refuge in the form of a company, a network and an institute for choreographers of color, and has raised her voice for all women in the field.

 

 

 

Cedar Lake in Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue. Photo by Paula Lobo, Courtesy Cedar Lake.

Nicolo Fonte

Crystal Pite’s Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue, 2008

This work very literally explores what the title expresses. Yet it is so fully realized that the choreography transcends its own specificity into a totally riveting experience of sheer physical magnificence. She reveals the fragility in human emotion and beauty without an ounce of irony.

 

Alvin Ailey performs Grace. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy AAADT.

Kyle Abraham

Ronald K. Brown’s Grace, 1999

This piece makes me want to shout, holler and cry…and give witness. Witness to a culture where dance works as an exalter of pain, frustration and loneliness. The themes still resonate, 15 years later, as a powerful celebration of the lives deeply embedded into club culture that have passed on. I’ve always viewed it as a dedication to those who’ve sought dance and club culture as the ultimate healer.

 

 

Mark Haim’s This Land Is Your Land. Photo by Tim Summers, Courtesy Haim.

Monica Bill Barnes

Mark Haim’s This Land Is Your Land, 2010

This was one of the most powerful, moving works I have ever seen. Mark is a riveting performer who blends a down-to-earth real-person quality with perfectly executed technical movement choices, and he was able to transfer these qualities to a large group of both dancers and non-dancers. It was profoundly beautiful and joyful and heartbreaking. I feel like this is the best example of the belief that some ideas and emotions can only be expressed through movement.

 

Liam Mower as Billy. Photo by David Scheinmann, Courtesy Billy Elliot.

Andy Blankenbuehler

Peter Darling’s Billy Elliot, 2005

I was so intrigued by the beautiful imagery that Peter Darling brought to the “Grandma’s Song,” a vocal solo, through a slow-moving wave of choreography that passed from one side of the stage to the other. It was a perfect example of how stylized ensemble choreography can function as an impressionistic surround, illuminating the subtext and complexity of a narrative solo.

 

 

You Got Served. Photo © Columbia Pictures’ Screen Gems.

Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo

You Got Served, 2004

This was the first time that the crew-based mentality style of hip hop was seen on the big screen. Dave Scott’s work is incredible, and really started a whole dance crew craze.

 

 

Atlanta Ballet in 1st Flash. Photo by Charlie McCullers, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet.

Alejandro Cerrudo

Jorma Elo’s 1st Flash, 2003

I remember being in awe of this piece. I told everyone I knew that Jorma had reignited the conversation between classical and con­tem­po­rary dance, in a new way that invited gesture and idiosyncrasy back to the table. After its pre­miere, Jorma was called to choreograph for major classical and contemporary companies everywhere. He has since clearly influenced the dance world and, to my eyes, 1st Flash was the beginning of it.

 

 

Non Griffiths in Dover Beach. Photo by Paula Court, Courtesy The Kitchen.

Lar Lubovitch

Sarah Michelson’s Dover Beach, 2009

Through an accumulation of highly original and powerfully athletic dances, exemplified well by Dover Beach, Sarah Michelson re-legitimized the type of technical/formalist dance language as a vehicle for avant-garde expression that had formerly become anathema to downtown dancemakers in general. Her dances oppose the rejection of all artifice (associated with the Judson Church aesthetic) with a theatricalism that nonetheless retains high-art bona fides poised on the border between dance and gallery-worthy visual art.

 

Mark Morris Dance Group in V. Photo by Robbie Jack, Courtesy MMDG.

Jessica Lang

Mark Morris’ V, 2001

The intelligence, craft, structure, musicality, mathematical patterns, the unavoidable humanity—this piece is timeless. It inspired me by demonstrating that a choreographer is responsible for creating everything that happens on the stage. Nothing is haphazard about its construction, indicating a strong singular voice from Mr. Morris that is brought to life through his beautiful dancers.

 

 

 

Akram Khan’s ma. Photo Courtesy Akram Khan Company.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa

Akram Khan’s ma, 2004

I was humbled by ma. It combined philosophy, poetry, intricacy and humor. I felt that everything had been said. Nothing more could be added choreographically.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paxton in The Beast. Photo by Julieta Cervantes, Courtesy BAC.

Stephen Petronio

Steve Paxton’s The Beast, 2010

Through this profoundly gripping study of small spinal manipulations and shifts of energy, Paxton somehow suspends time. The dark, disorienting palette of action confirms the belief that imagination is the only limit to innovation, and that the prerequisite of youth in dance is an illusion: Paxton, still an extraordinary innovator at age 75, accomplishes what younger dancers can’t begin to do.

 

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021