Karole Armitage


Karole Armitage, known as the 'punk ballerina' has had a multi-faceted career. In addition to working as a choreographer, director and opera director in Europe and the US, she formed IAmADancerFilms in 2019. IAmADancerFilms are made by and with dancers who perform roles including cast, crew, gimbal operators, and designers. Rather than capturing the live dance experience, they are designed to show dance from new perspectives. Made in the auteur and art traditions, IAmADancerFilms begin with a long rehearsal process that includes figuring out most of the camera work. The shoots are fast, fluid and cost effective with light technical and equipment needs. The work combines conceptual rigor while practicing restraint to minimize ecological impact and fiscal requirements. The philosophy comes from a deep commitment to the environment and the belief that consumer culture must change in order to protect it. The cinematic styles include art films, hybrid documentaries and installations. 

Armitage was rigorously trained in classical ballet and began her professional career as a member of the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève, Switzerland (1973-1975), a company devoted exclusively to the repertory of George Balanchine, the Artistic Director of the company at that time. In 1976, she was invited to join Merce Cunningham's company, where she remained for five years, (1975-1981) 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. She was the Artistic Director of the New York based Armitage Gone! Dance Company from 1983-2019, interrupted in the 1990s for 15 years when she was appointed Artistic Director in various European Institutions. 

Armitage created her first piece in 1979, followed by the iconic Drastic-Classicism in 1981. Throughout the 80s, she led her own New York-based dance company, The Armitage Ballet. Commissions from the Paris Opera Ballet and American Ballet Theatre led to choreographic commissions in Europe throughout the 80s, 90s and into the early 2000s with projects that continue to this day. She has created new works on companies from The Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow to the Tasmanian Dance company including the Ballet de Monte Carlo, Lyon Opera Ballet, Ballet Nacional de Cuba, The Washington Ballet, The Boston Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, The Kansas City Ballet, The Greek National Company, The Bern Ballet, The Boston Ballet and Rambert Dance Company of London.

Armitage served as Director of the 45-member MaggioDanza, the Ballet of Florence Italy (1996–2000) presenting classical repertoire, modern masters and contemporary works; Armitage directed the Venice Biennale of Contemporary Dance in Italy (2004), and served as resident choreographer for the Ballet de Lorraine in France (2000–2004). After her company's successful season at the Joyce in 2004, Armitage's focus shifted to her New York-based company once again, Armitage Gone! Dance. 

Armitage is renowned for pushing boundaries to create contemporary works that blend dance, music, visual art and science to engage in philosophical questions about the search for meaning. She combines a legacy of process-oriented experimental dance thinking with her ballet and modern dance heritage to create her own unique vocabulary and subject matter. She is inspired by disparate, non-narrative sources, from 20th century physics, to 16th century Florentine fashion, Japanese Noh Ghost Theater, pop culture and new media. She was one of the first choreographers in New York to dress a man in a skirt in 1983 and, from the inception of her work as an Artistic Director, made a commitment to create a company of dancers that looked like New York City with dancers of many backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures and nationalities.

In her hands the classic vocabularly is given a needed shock to its system, with speed, fractured lines, abstractions and symmetry countermanded with asymmetry. Music is her script, though she also choreogrraphs to prose and silence. She has collaborated with contemporary and experimentalist composers such as John Luther Adams, Thomas Ades, Rhys Chatham, Terry Dame, Annie Gosfield, Vijay Iyer, David Lang, Lugas Ligeti, Lois V Vierk, and Reiko Yamada. The scores can be marked by extreme lyricism as well as dissonance, noise and polyrythms. The sets and costumes are often designed by leading artists in the contemporary art world including Alba Clemente, Francesco Clemente, Karen Kilmnik, Brice Marden, Jeff Koons, Vera Lutter, David Salle and Philip Taaffe. Costumes have been designed by fashion deisgners Cristian Lacroix, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Peter Speliopoulos as well. Her scientific collaborators include Dr. Brian Greene (Columbia Univeristy), Dr. Paul Ehrlich (Stanford University), and Dr. John Harte (University of California at Berkeley). Her full length works on theoretical physics and climate changes were prestned at the World Science Festival in New York and Italy and in the Milstien Hall of Ocean Life at the American Museum of Natural History. She enjoys working in traditional theatrical spaces as well as in site-specific locations. 

Armitage’s work is at once both esoteric and popular, having choreographed two Broadway productions (Passing Strange filmed by Spike Lee 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 2016 she created a work for the Boston Ballet to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and Stravinsky’s Agon for the London Philharmonia conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. As the 2016 Artistic Director of Italy’s Ravello Fesival she curated an evening of American Dance, inviting New York City Ballet, Martha Graham Dance Company, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, William Forsythe, Richard Move and her company to participate in a survey of the techniques and philosophies of American Dance in the 20th Century. The evening was set into motion by Native American dancers performing the traditional Prairie Chicken Dance. The company has created several world premieres for the festival since their debut season. 

Armitage has directed operas from the baroque and contemporary repertoire for several prestigious house in Europe, including Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, The Lyric Opera in Athens, Het Muzik Theater in Amsterdam, Opera Saratoga and most recently Boston Lyric Opera (2018). She choreographed The Cunning Little Vixen and A Dancer's Dream for the New York Philharmonic presented at Avery Fischer Hall at Lincoln Center and provided choreography for Marie Antoinette, by playwright David Adjmi at the American Reperotry Theatre at Harvard and for the Yale Repertory Theater. In 2020, Armitage choreographed the Marc Jacobs Fall Winter 2020/2021 Fashion Show to great acclaim featuruing 50 dancers and 80 models - all weaing high heels - at the Park Avenue Armory. 

Her work has been the subject of documentaries made for television: The South Bank Show (1985) directed by David Hinton and Wild Ballerina (1988) directed by Mark Kidel as well as others for French Arte, various European channels and WGBH in Boston. Armitage is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2009, she was awarded France's most prestigious award, Commandeur dans l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres.  She is the 2012 recipient of the artist-in-residence grant at the Chinati Foundaiton, founded by Donald Judd in Marfa, Texas and received an honorary Doctorate of the Arts from the University of Kansas in 2013. In 2016, Armitage was honored with a Radcliffe Fellowship at Harvard and a Simons Fellowship at the University of Kansas to study Native American Plains Culture with a focus on Kansa, Paweee and Osage. Armitage is currently an MIT Media Lab Directors Fellow, investigating ways to bring new technology with a poetic impact to the stage.  

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