10 contemporary ballet choreographers who are innovating the artform

Throughout the long history of ballet, there have always been contemporary choreographers who have put their own stamp on the artform. “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 now,” says Dean of the UNCSA School of Dance Endalyn Taylor. “Sometimes choreographers are telling stories about what is happening in the world of dance, and sometimes they are creating works that are about external topics that are of global importance,” adds Taylor. 

It is important for students in the School of Dance to experience different styles of choreography. “Being a multiplistic dancer is a huge asset,” says Taylor. “It not only shapes you and makes you more viable in the field, but it also makes you a different type of thinker.” Working with a variety of choreographers that come from different backgrounds and perspectives provides dancers with “an opportunity to expand their view of life and the arts.”

In this list, Taylor guides us through ten contemporary ballet choreographers that she says are making significant works that reflect on all of the things currently happening in our world.

Choreographers on Taylor’s list are listed in alphabetical order by last name: 

Kyle Abraham

Though this artistic director and founder of A.I.M by Kyle Abraham is not known necessarily for being a contemporary ballet choreographer, Taylor includes him on this list because he has created three works for the New York City Ballet that she describes as “classical ballet companies shifting into a space that is more contemporary.” A recipient of the 2018 Princess Grace Statue Award and a 2013 MacArthur Fellow, Taylor defines him as a choreographer “whose cultural references are so authentic and nostalgic that it really transcends whoever is 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 principle dancer Misty Copeland. 

Robert Garland

Currently the resident choreographer for Dance Theatre of Harlem, Robert Garland is another choreographer that is “steeped in classical ballet history and tradition, who creates works that beautifully and intricately balance the classical and more contemporary movement vocabulary.” A former principal dancer at the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Garland has created works for the New York City Ballet and The Royal Ballet in the United Kingdom, as well as more commercial work for various advertisements and awards shows. 

Amy Hall Garner 

A relatively newer choreographer, Amy Hall Garner was one of the first recipients of the Joffrey Ballet’s Choreography of Color Award (now titled Winning Works). Taylor adds her to the list, saying Garner’s “choreography has a real pure, classic look and a romantic feel to how she phrases movement.” Taylor adds she is looking forward to watching the evolution of Garner’s choreographic career. 

Francesca Harper

Recently named the Artistic Director of Ailey II, the second company of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Taylor includes Francesca Harper as a “well-known and very versatile artist with a background that includes ballet, contemporary and broadway dancing.” Taylor appreciates Harper’s work because it gives space for both male and female bodied dancers to live 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.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa 

An 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 experienced Lopez Ochoa’s work when viewing her piece “Red Riding Hood,” performed by UK-based 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 Dutch National Ballet, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal and Joffrey Ballet.

Darrell Grand Moultrie

Taylor describes Darrell Grand Moultrie as an extremely versatile choreographer with experience creating works for ballet, contemporary dance, broadway and even Beyoncé’s “Mrs. Carter” World Tour. “Moultrie is a nuanced choreographer that appreciates subtlety,” explains Taylor, adding that his works “delve into what moden, jazzy and cultural movement can look like in pointe shoes.” 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 Theatre of Harlem and The Juilliard School. 

Katy Pyle

A graduate of the High School Program at UNCSA, choreographer Katy Pyle is the founder of Ballez, a ballet company self-described as “lesbians doing ballet” and “not just lesbians, but all the queers that ballet has left out.” Taylor includes Pyle on her list as a choreographer that is “asking and brilliantly demanding that we take a look and rethink who and what should be on the stage.” Through Ballez, Pyle has reimagined several classical 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:

Claudia Schreier 

Taylor adds Claudia Schreier to her list as a choreographer that delves into works about the Black experience and describes her as an artist that can “reference an idea without beating you over the head with it.” As an example, Taylor recalls a piece that Schreier created for the Dance Theatre of Harlem, called “Passage,” that abstractly dealt with the subject matter of the slave trade, and which Taylor describes as “hauntingly beautiful.” 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 Prize for Dance.

Micaela Taylor

Micaela Taylor is another choreographer that merges ballet and contemporary dance. Artistic Director and Founder of The TL Collective dance company, she is the recipient of the Inaugural Springboard EMERGE Choreographic Award. Taylor describes Micaela Taylor’s choreography as very physical, with a lot of emphasis on facial expressions, while also incorporating hip hop cultural influence to her movement. Micaela Taylor has choreographed and taught for BODYTRAFFIC, Springboard Danse Montreal and Cleo Parker Robinson Dance.

Christopher Wheeldon

Taylor describes Christopher Wheeldon as “a very busy and established choreographer” who is a true craftsman of the ballet form. The current Artistic Associate of The Royal Ballet in the United Kingdom, Wheeldon is a former soloist with the New York City Ballet, who became the company’s first resident choreographer in 2001. Taylor says Wheeldon is “truly a great example of someone that understands the history of ballet but finds ways to combine traditional styles with new ideas and new ways of weaving movement together.”

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by Melissa Upton-Julio

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October 19, 2021