Throughout the long history of ballet, there have always been contemporary choreographers who have put their own stamp on this art form. “A contemporary ballet choreographer is one who honors and understands the history of ballet while finding ways to innovate and make relevant what is happening in the present,” says UNCSA School of Dance Dean Endalyn Taylor . “Sometimes choreographers tell stories about what’s happening in the world of dance, and sometimes they create work that deals with external topics of global significance,” Taylor adds.
It is important that the students of the School of Dance experiment with different styles of choreography. “Being a multiplicist dancer is a huge asset,” says Taylor. “Not only does it shape you and make you more viable on the pitch, it also makes you a different kind of thinker.” Working with a variety of choreographers who come from different backgrounds and perspectives offers dancers “an opportunity to broaden their outlook on life and the arts.”
In this list, Taylor walks us through ten contemporary ballet choreographers who she says are make meaningful works that reflect all the things currently happening in our world.
The choreographers on Taylor’s list are listed alphabetically by last name:
Although this artistic director and founder of AIM by Kyle Abraham is not necessarily known to be a contemporary ballet choreographer, Taylor includes him in this list because he has created three works for the New York City Ballet which she describes as “classical ballet companies transforming into a more contemporary space. Recipient of the 2018 Princess Grace Statue Award and 2013 MacArthur Fellow, Taylor defines him as a choreographer “whose cultural references are so authentic and nostalgic that they truly transcend anyone in the audience.” Abraham has choreographed works for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and a solo work for American Ballet Theater principal dancer Misty Copeland.
Currently Resident Choreographer of the Dance Theater in Harlem, Robert Garland is another choreographer “steeped in the history and tradition of classical ballet, creating works that beautifully and intricately balance the vocabulary of classical and more contemporary movement.” A former principal dancer at the Dance Theater in Harlem, Garland has created work for the New York City Ballet and the Royal Ballet in the UK, as well as more commercial work for various commercials and award shows.
A relatively recent choreographer, Amy Hall Garner was an early recipient of Joffrey Ballet’s Choreography of Color Award (now titled Winning Works). Taylor adds it to the list, saying “Garner’s choreography has a real pure, classic look and a romantic feel to it in the way it expresses movement.” Taylor adds that she looks forward to seeing how Garner’s dance career evolves.
Recently named Artistic Director of Ailey II, the second company of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Taylor includes Francesca Harper as “a well-known and highly versatile artist with a background that includes ballet, contemporary dance and Broadway dance” . Taylor appreciates Harper’s work because it gives space for male and female dancers to experience and indulge in the strength and athleticism of ballet, which is often undervalued. Throughout her career, Harper has choreographed pieces for Tanz Graz, Hubbard Street II, Dallas Black Dance Theater and her own company, The Francesca Harper Project, which she founded in 2005.
International choreographer, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa is known for creating ballets that explore the traditional narrative side of classical ballet in a very new way. Taylor first discovered Lopez Ochoa’s work when viewing his play “Red Riding Hood”, performed by British company Ballet Black. Taylor calls Lopez Ochoa’s work “visually beautiful and intricate,” adding that she choreographs well for groups, solos, and duets. Lopez Ochoa has worked with 68 dance companies around the world, including the Dutch National Ballet, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal and the Joffrey Ballet.
Taylor describes Darrell Grand Moultrie as an extremely versatile choreographer with experience creating works for ballet, contemporary dance, Broadway and even “Mrs. Carter » World Tour. “Moultrie is a nuanced choreographer who appreciates subtlety,” says Taylor, adding that his works “explore what modern, jazzy, cultural moves in pointe can look like.” Moultrie is a recipient of the Princess Grace Choreography Fellowship Award and has worked with a wide range of ballet companies including American Ballet Theatre, Atlanta Ballet, BalletMet, Dance Theater of Harlem and The Juilliard School.
A graduate of UNCSA’s high school program, choreographer Katy Pyle is the founder of Ballez, a ballet company that describes itself as “lesbians doing ballet” and “not just lesbians, but all the queers that the ballet left out”. Taylor includes Pyle on her list as a choreographer who “brilliantly asks and demands that we examine and rethink who and what should be on stage.” Through Ballez, Pyle has reimagined several classic works such as “The Firebird” and “Sleeping Beauty” into pieces that also tell the story of important cultural movements.
Listen to Katy Pyle featured on the Kenan Institute’s ArtsRestart podcast:
Taylor adds Claudia Schreier to his roster as a choreographer who delves into works about the black experience and describes her as an artist who can “reference an idea without fighting with it.” As an example, Taylor recalls a play Schreier created for Harlem’s Dance Theater called “Passage”, which dealt abstractly with the subject of the slave trade and which Taylor describes as “of a bewitching beauty”. Schreier was the 2020 Choreographer-in-Residence at Atlanta Ballet and received both the 2018 NEFA National Dance Project Award and the 2017 Lotos Foundation Dance Award.
Micaela Taylor is another choreographer who merges ballet and contemporary dance. Artistic director and founder of the dance company The TL Collective, she is the recipient of the Inaugural Springboard EMERGE choreographic prize. Taylor describes Micaela Taylor’s choreography as very physical, with a lot of emphasis on facial expressions, while also incorporating hip hop cultural influence into her movement. Micaela Taylor has choreographed and taught for BODYTRAFFIC, Springboard Danse Montréal and Cleo Parker Robinson Dance.
Taylor describes Christopher Wheeldon as “a very busy and established choreographer” who is a true craftsman of ballet form. Currently Artistic Associate of The Royal Ballet in the UK, Wheeldon is a former soloist with New York City Ballet, who became the company’s first resident choreographer in 2001. Taylor says Wheeldon is “really a great example of someone who understands the history of ballet but finds ways to combine traditional styles with new ideas and new ways to weave movement together.