Music for contemporary ballet

Armitage Gone! Dance director Karole Armitage at work

Nicknamed the “punk ballerina,” Karole Armitage, artistic director of Armitage Gone! Dance, makes work rooted in the ballet vocabulary, accented with modern’s grounded, off-kilter sensibilities. It’s a taste she developed from her contrasting performance career with the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève in Switzerland and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. “I’ve always been interested in taking the classical form into new dimensions,” she says, “using the intellectual ideas of modern dance and the refinement and virtuosity of ballet, and thinking about the geometry of dance beyond horizontal and linear lines.”

Armitage, who has also created work on companies including The Washington Ballet, Paris Opéra Ballet and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, maps out much of her choreography before she steps foot into her company’s rehearsal space in Jersey City, New Jersey. “I try to give it a great deal of thought before I get in the studio, and I will have a pretty good sense of structure and vocab,” she says. Still, much of it is flipped upside down once it is put onto the dancers’ bodies. “The energy the dancers bring to the choreography makes me see it in a different way. They help reinvent it. Embroider it. Create themes and variations. Turn solos into duets,” she says. “Suddenly, everything I began with gets thrown out the window.” DT

Artist: Bobby Watson

Album: Quiet As It’s Kept

“He turns music into a prism—you’re hearing it up close and from far away, right, left and bottom. It’s an inspiring way to look at music as a choreographer and really opens the way I think about using space.”



Composer: Roberto De Simone

Album: Made in Naples

“This 14th-century music mixes Arabic, Roman and Norman influences. It’s so full of guts and life. I love listening to that because it unleashes a primal side that’s raw, visceral and deeply human.”



Composer: Béla Bartók

Work: Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta

“Bartók made music in a way unlike anyone else has. It’s so dramatic, yet so pure. He builds to such extreme crescendos. It’s useful to understand how, as a choreographer, you can push drama and tension.”



Artist: Kanye West

Album: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

“Kanye is just delicious. I don’t really listen to it for the words, but for the music and rhythms. It’s so inventive because of its drive, which gives you so much energy.”



Artist: Fela Kuti

Album: Chop ’N’ Quench

“I love African pop music because there’s so much extraordinary work in it. The way the melody and rhythms work together sort of takes you to a transcendent place where you can just let go.”



Photo by Kyle Froman

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