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By Jennifer Stahl
What makes a great choreographer? The elements can sound like a collection of superpowers: The ability to evoke the most intense human emotions with just a simple gesture. A gift for “seeing the music.” A creativity that can transform how audiences perceive their world. A talent for turning dreams into onstage realities.
Left: Sara Mearns rehearsing Karole Armitage’s A Dancer’s Dream. Photo by Chris Lee.
In the case of breakout choreographer Kyle Abraham, the appeal of his work lies in its power to surprise. A rippling hip-hop duet might melt into a pair of smiles and an unexpected hug, which somehow unfolds into an upsetting scene of police violence. He can skillfully pair smart humor with disturbing observations about racism, or a romantic tutu with a 1980s boom box. This agility has helped him rack up an impressive collection of commissions, tours, grants and awards over the past two years, seemingly coming out of nowhere to become the new darling of the dance world. Now with a MacArthur “genius grant” worth $625,000, Abraham has the resources to take his vision even further. (Are you a choreographer looking for your own opportunities? Be sure to check out “Choreography Knocks,” a detailed list of workshops, festivals, residencies and more, at dancemagazine.com.)
Our annual choreography issue also talks to a handful of today’s most interesting dancemakers about one of the boldest tools they can use onstage: nudity. In “Baring It All,” Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Jonah Bokaer and others talk about what goes into their decisions to present dancers naked. We also hear a performer’s view of what that experience is like. And in “A Muse’s Vision,” New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns shares her perspective on the creative process, and talks about the magic—and pressure—of stringing together series of movements until they become something more. Because ultimately, choreographers’ number-one tools are their dancers.
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Headshot by Nathan Sayers