Karole Armitage was rigorously trained in classical ballet and began her professional career in 1973 as a member of the ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève, Switzerland, a company devoted exclusively to the repertory of George Balanchine. In 1976, she was invited to join Merce Cunningham's company, where she remained for five years, performing leading roles in Cunningham's landmark works. Through her unique and acute knowledge of the aesthetic values of Balanchine and Cunningham, Armitage has created her own "voice" in the dichotomy of classical and modern dance, and is seen by some critics as the true choreographic heir to the two masters of 20th century American dance.
Known as the "punk ballerina," Armitage created her first piece in 1978, followed by the iconic Drastic-Classicism in 1981. Throughout the 80s, she led her own new york-based dance company, Armitage Ballet. Following the premiere of The Watteau Duets at Dance Theater Workshop, Mikhail Baryshnikov invited her to create a work for the American Ballet Theatre, and Rudolph Nureyev commissioned a work for the Paris Opera Ballet. Subsequently, she continued to work both in Europe and the United States until 1996 when she was appointed director of Maggiodanza in Florence, Italy. From 1999 to 2004 she was resident choreographer of Ballet de Lorraine in France, and in 2005, served as the director of the Venice Biennale Festival of Contemporary Dance. (Her work continues to tour throughout the continent, performed by several European companies.) After her company's successful season at the Joyce in 2004, Armitage's focus shifted more toward her New York-based company.
Armitage is renowned for pushing the boundaries to create contemporary works that blend dance, music and art. She is inspired by disparate, non-narrative sources, from 20th century physics, to 16th century Florentine fashion, to pop culture and new media. In her hands, the classic vocabulary is given a needed shock to its system, with speed, fractured lines, abstractions and symmetry countermanded by asymmetry. Music is her script and she has collaborated with contemporary and experimentalist composers such as Rhys Chatham, Vijay Iyer, Lukas Ligeti and John Luther Adams. The scores can be marked by extreme lyricism as well as dissonance, noise and polyrhythms. The sets and costumes for her works are often designed by leading artists in the contemporary art world, including Jeff Koons, David Salle, Phillip Taaffe and Brice Marden.
Armitage's work is at once both esoteric and popular. Having choreographed two Broadway productions (Passing Strange and Hair, which garnered her a tony® nomination), videos for Madonna and Michael Jackson, several Merchant-Ivory films and Cirque du Soleil’s 2012 tent show, Amaluna. In 2009, she was awarded France’s most prestigious award, Commandeur dans l'orde des Arts et des Lettres. She is the 2012 recipient of the prestigious artist-in-residence grant at the Chinati Foundation, founded by artist Donald Judd in Marfa, Texas.
The companies she has set new works on include: the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, American Ballet Theatre, the Paris Opera Ballet, White Oak Dance Project, The Deutsch Opera Berlin, The Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, Lyon Opera Ballet, Ballet Naccional de Cuba, The Washington ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, The Kansas city Ballet, The Bern Ballet and The Rambert Dance Company. She has directed operas from the baroque and contemporary repertoire for prestigious houses of Europe, including Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, the Lyric Opera in Athens, Het Muzik Theater in Amsterdam. She choreographed The Cunning Little Vixen, directed by Doug Fitch, in 2011, for the New York Philharmonic.
Her work has been the subject of two documentaries made for television: The South Bank Show (1985), directed by David Hinton and Wild Ballerina(1988), directed by mark kidel. Upcoming projects in the 2012-2013 season include a new ballet for her company, Mechanics Of The Dance Machine to Gabriel Prokofiev’s Concerto For Turntables And Orchestra, choreography for Marie Antoinette, by playwright David Adjmi, directed by Rebecca Taichman, co-produced by American Repertory Theater Harvard and Yale Repertory Theater, a commissioned ballet on the theme of a Pollock drip painting for the Kansas City Ballet, and choreography for the New York Philharmonic production of Le Baiser de la Fée and Petrushka directed by Doug Fitch.