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.

 

Raised by Wolves
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.

 

 

Cedric Andrieux
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
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
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.

 

 

Walking with Pearl Southern Diaries
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.

 

 

 

Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue
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.

 

Grace
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.

 

 

This Land Is Your Land
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.

 

Billy Elliot
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
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.

 

 

1st Flash
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.

 

 

Dover Beach
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.

 

Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes
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.

 

 

 

ma
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Beast
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.