In the decades after the death of George Balanchine (1904-1983), the most prominent and influential choreographer in America during the 20th-century, many in the ballet world did not think that any new choreographers would live up to his creative legacy. Nevertheless, in the new millennia many young choreographers have created new, ground-breaking ballets. The five listed below are a few examples of choreographers who seamlessly integrate the classical language of ballet with modernist aesthetics, while creating fresh and exciting performances for audiences to enjoy. Also, these choreographers often take inspiration from the visual art world, making ballet a much more dynamic art form.
Justin Peck, a soloist with the New York City Ballet, has become one of the most sought after choreographers in the ballet world. After being appointed resident choreographer of the New York City Ballet back in 2014, he has produced work for the Pacific Northwest Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, and the Miami City Ballet. He has also been featured in the Guggenheim Museum’s Works & Process program. His ballets are positively explosive. The dancers move faster than one might expect, and his work is very musically driven, meaning that almost every musical phrase of the score has a movement accompanying it. He is quite a collaborative choreographer who reaches outside the bubble of the dance world for inspiration. His most recent ballet, In the Countenance of Kings, is set to music composed by Sufjan Stevens, and the set for his piece Heatscape was designed by street artist Shepard Fairey, with the promotional material shot at Miami’s Wynwood Walls. He was the subject of the documentary Ballet 422, which revolves around the creation of his third ballet for the New York City Ballet, from its inception to the opening night.
Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
Half-Colombian and half-Belgian, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa trained at the Royal Ballet Academy in Antwerp, Belgium, and performed with a wide variety of European ballet and modern dance companies before working as a choreographer. She has been praised as “the rising star of the Dutch dance scene” by the Dutch press. Her pieces integrate the energy of modern dance in the classical vocabulary of ballet. They can be quite languid, with moments that move between stillness and quick, animated movement. Some of her most recent work has been very athletic, challenging dancers with complicated lifts and floor-work, like in her piece Before After. She has also created works for the musical theatre, for opera productions, and for fashion events. In the United States, her ballet Mammatus premiered at the Joffrey Ballet in 2015, and she is presenting a piece at the New York City Ballet this fall.
As the former artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet and current resident choreographer at the American Ballet Theatre, Alexei Ratmansky‘s name has become synonymous for innovation. He has staged his own versions of classic 19th-century story ballets like Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Don Quixote, The Firebird, and Swan Lake, updating them to make them even more appealing to a contemporary audience. Simultaneously, he is creating entirely new ballets like his Shostakovich Trilogy for the American Ballet Theatre, and has taken inspiration from Wassily Kandinsky’s paintings for the set and costumes of his most recent piece for the New York City Ballet, Pictures at an Exhibition. Ratmansky’s new ballets are usually set to complex pieces of music, which match the intensity and dramatic movement that is so characteristic of his work.
British choreographer David Dawson trained at the Royal Ballet School and danced professionally with the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Dutch National Ballet. His piece A Million Kisses to My Skin, set to Bach’s Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, is an exuberant ballet with swooping asymmetrical, expansive movements. The Nature of Daylight is a powerfully captivating work about seeking and missing true love, which he conveys through a rapturous pas de deux and a dramatic score by Max Richter. Though the two ballets have very different moods, they are equally athletic, with complicated lift sequences that transition into extensive synchronized passages.
No discussion of contemporary ballet would be complete without mentioning Christopher Wheeldon. The artistic director of the New York City Ballet appointed Wheeldon as the company’s inaugural choreographer in residence in 2001. Wheeldon had trained at the Royal Ballet School in London and performed with the Royal Ballet before moving to New York to be a soloist. Once there, with former principal dancer Wendy Whelan as his muse, he created the ballets Polyphonia, Within the Golden Hour, and After the Rain. Working once again with the Royal Ballet, he produced two full-length ballets –Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Winter’s Tale- and the one-act piece Strapless, based on the story behind John Singer Sargent’s painting Madam X. He has been credited with bringing ballet into the mainstream with his Tony Award-winning choreography of the Broadway musical An American in Paris.