‘Punk ballerina’ Karole Armitage launches genre show in New York
Karole Armitage, the choreographer behind Madonna’s vogue Marc Jacobs A/W 2021 video and fashion show, debut A pandemic diary at New York Live Arts
Films by Luchino Visconti, medieval medicine and Marc Jacobs are among the many inspirations behind choreographer Karole Armitage’s new work, A pandemic diarypremiering at New York Live Arts March 16-19, 2022.
The exhibition documents Armitage’s creative explorations during the Covid lockdown period, but it also acts as a sort of retrospective, synthesizing numerous artistic collaborations (with David Salle, Jeff Koons, Alba Clemente) and various influences (music , science, art , fashion) that underpin his kaleidoscopic resume into a dazzling body of work.
Armitage began her career under the direction of choreographer George Balanchine before transitioning to Merce Cunningham’s dance company and launching her own company in 1981. The New York ‘punk ballerina’ quickly became an luminary on the dance floor downtown artistic boom, combining the rigor of classical ballet. with modern dance experimentation for an explosive new form of choreography that pushed the boundaries of what dance could look like and the topics it could address.
She choreographed Madonna vogue and Michael Jackson In the closet videos, as well as operas from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Indeed, she broke with the minimalist formalism of dancers like Cunningham and Yvonne Rainer to create a new form of modernism that was more viscerally emotional and erotic, in the same way that visual artists like Salle and Koons departed from the simplified abstraction of Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt and others.
A pandemic diary by Karole Armitage
A pandemic diary juxtaposes excerpts from dance films created by Armitage over the past two years with live performances for the stage and marks the first time that Armitage herself will perform since 1989, this time alongside the New York legend City Ballet Jock Soto. The show is divided into five parts, each drawing on a different range of influences and preoccupied with its own set of philosophical questions.
Beautiful monster. Dancers: Sierra French, Alonso Guzman, Cristian Laverde Koenig. Photography: Sante D’Orazio
The program opens with a diptych, beautiful monster and Louisinspired by Visconti’s film The Strega Bruciata Viva (The Witch Burned Alive) and Roberto Rossellini The seizure of power by Louis XIV (The seizure of power by Louis XIV). The films are, as Armitage describes it, “both about the hidden uses of power. In Visconti, it’s about how even the most glamorous movie star is subjected to other kinds of power pressures. While with Rossellini, this is how Louis XIV put on more and more elaborate clothes and had himself copied to distract, by social envy or status consciousness, that he took more power.
“It’s about these ruthless but subversive means of distraction as a means of power,” Armitage continues, then, with his characteristic blend of philosophical eloquence and quick-witted charisma, sums up that “either way, Trump was the ‘inspiration”.
Killer. Dancers: Kali Oliver, Isaac Kerr. Photography: Steven Pisano
The second part of the program, From head to toes and Andyis based on “the most wonderful book of medieval philosophy, spirituality, medicine, which goes through medieval beliefs part of the body by part of the body, and it inspired me to do a dance that uses every part of the body is a generator of movement – from the head to each of the senses, genitals, hands and all that – and then incorporates this really weird thinking that was going on at the time.
Another segment, titled 6 ft. A part, is inspired by Armitage’s work as a director at the MIT Media Lab, where she explored how to use new technologies to create poetic impact on stage. Working in collaboration with young Scottish engineer and designer Agnes Fury Cameron, Armitage equipped the dancers with wires and visible devices – iPhones and accelerometers, a type of body sensor – that trigger sound based on their movement.
The last installment of A pandemic diary is a continuation of Armitage’s collaboration with Marc Jacobs on his A/W 2021 collection show, which saw a rampaging army of dancers and models invade the New York Armory. In this iteration, dancers dressed in select Marc Jacobs attire perform to music by Native American saxophonist and composer Jim Pepper.
The production also features costumes by Koons made from wetsuits covered in small overhead speakers that move with the dancers, and by Salle, who draped two dancers in long, shaggy hair designed to mask their gender.
Although these different segments may seem disparate, according to Armitage, they all work together to convey a central message. “I want people to feel that the status quo needs to be challenged. That doing things with real depth actually makes sense. That it’s not some kind of superficial false imitator, sensibility. This art makes sense when it takes things to the extreme. I want people to leave with an artistic experience. §
Andy. Dancers: Sierra French, Cristian Laverde Koenig. Cameraman: Alonso Guzman. Photography: Steven Pisano