Wolfgang Borrs, Courtesy Richter; Johan Persson, Courtesy Talbot; Ana Cuba, Courtesy Muhly

The Most Influential People in Dance Today: Nico Muhly, Max Richter and Joby Talbot

Petipa relied on Tchaikovsky, Balanchine bonded with Stravinsky and Merce Cunningham collaborated with John Cage. When a choreographer cultivates a special partnership with a composer, their collaborations often take on a deeper richness. In the current creative climate, young choreographers have successfully enticed composers to lay out their musical blueprints for both narrative and non-narrative ballets.

Joby Talbot has written highly memorable scores: the whimsical Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, with its fantastical percussion and its riff on the "Rose Adagio," illustrates Christopher Wheeldon's trippy imagination. Similarly, the drama and joy of his Winter's Tale lay the groundwork for Wheeldon's contrast of the night and day of the ballet's moods.


Then there's Chroma—Wayne McGregor's watershed ballet whose hyperphysical juggling of the torso, balance and weight springs to life against the backdrop of Talbot's luminous score. Similarly, McGregor tapped into composer Max Richter's cinematic aesthetic for The Royal Ballet's Infra and Woolf Works.

Nico Muhly, who has worked in genres from film scoring to opera, combines classicism with the sensibilities of pop/rock. Benjamin Millepied mirrored the composer's lush orchestrations through Muhly's original scores for Two Hearts for New York City Ballet and From Here On Out at American Ballet Theatre. Stephen Petronio nabbed Muhly for his stormy I Drink the Air Before Me.

What these composers bring to the stage is the voice of now—melodies and rhythms that speak to the current generation with finesse and forward-looking vision.

Read the rest of Dance Magazine's list of the most influential people in dance today.

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Luke Isley, Courtesy Ballet West

How Do Choreographers Bring Something Fresh to Music We've Heard Over and Over?

In 2007, Oregon Ballet Theatre asked Nicolo Fonte to choreograph a ballet to Maurice Ravel's Boléro. "I said, 'No way. I'm not going near it,' " recalls Fonte. "I don't want to compete with the Béjart version, ice skaters or the movie 10. No, no, no!"

But Fonte's husband encouraged him to "just listen and get a visceral reaction." He did. And Bolero turned into one of Fonte's most requested and successful ballets.

Not all dance renditions of similar warhorse scores have worked out so well. Yet the irresistible siren song of pieces like Stravinsky's The Firebird and The Rite of Spring, as well as the perennial Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, seem too magnetic for choreographers to ignore.

And there are reasons for their popularity. Some were commissioned specifically for dance: Rite and Firebird for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes; Boléro for dance diva Ida Rubinstein's post–Ballets Russes troupe. Hypnotic rhythms (Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel) and danceable melodies (Bizet's Carmen) make a case for physical eye candy. Audience familiarity can also help box office receipts. Still, many choreographers have been sabotaged by the formidable nature and Muzak-y overuse of these iconic compositions.

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