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She was awarded the title of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres of the French Republic.
She initially studied dance at the San Francisco School of Ballet and at Utah University. In 1965 she joined the Alwin Nikolaïs dance company in New York becoming an outstanding dancer of the company.
In 1968 she won the International Dance Festival in Paris as Best Dancer (Meilleur Danseur).
In 1971 she joined the Anne Béranger dance company and in 1972 she presented Rituel pour un rêve mort at the Avignon Festival. Successively she was invited to join the London School of Contemporary Dance as an instructor, performer and choreographer.
In 1975 she directed the Groupe de Recherches Théâtrales (GRTOP). Creations of this period include Density 21,5 ; The Architects ; This, that and the other; Slow, heavy and blue. Beginning 1974 she taught her improvisation and composition techniques in masterclasses held at the rotonde of the Opéra.
In 1980 she was at the 'Teatro la Fenice' in Venice. Works of this period include Undici Onde; Underwood; Blue Lady.
In 1985 she was back in Paris where she performed at the 'Théâtre de la Ville' presenting Dark ; Still Waters and other works.
In 1991–1992 she was in Finland (Elokuu ; Syyskuu ; Maa). She also directed the Cullberg Ballet of Stockholm for two years (Sub Rosa).
She presented several solo choreographies such as Blue Lady (1984), Vu d’ici (1995). Other works include choreographies for dancers such as Nina Hyvärinen, Talia Paz, Marie-Claude Pietragalla, Tero Saarinen.
In 1998, she won the Prix Benois de la Danse as choreographer.
She was the director of the Dance sector of the Venice Biennale (Biennale Danza - Venice, Italy) from 1999 to 2002. Works there include Parabola (1999), Light Bringers (2000), J. Beuys Song (2001), Writings on water (2002). In Venice she opened the contemporary dance academy Accademia Isola Danza and created a festival.
- 1965–1971 – Leading figure in the Alwin Nikolais company
- 1974–1980 – Etoile-Chorégraphe at the Paris Opera Ballet (GRTOP)
- 1980–1984 – Artistic Director of the Teatro La Fenice, Venice
- 1985–1991 – Resident Artist at the Théâtre de la Ville, Paris
- 1991–1992 – Resident Artist at the Helsinki City Theater and the Finnish National Ballet
- 1994–1995 – Artistic Director of the Cullberg Ballet, Stockholm
- 1999–2002 – Artistic Director of the dance section of the Venice Biennale
- Since 1999 – Artistic director of the Atelier de Paris - Carolyn Carlson, Master classes centre
- Since 2004 – Artistic Director of the National Choreographic Centre of Roubaix Nord-Pas de Calais
- Bill Marshall and Cristina Johnston 2005. France and the Americas: culture, politics, and history, a multidisciplinary encyclopedia. Volume 3. ABC-CLIO. Pages 213–214
- Atelier de Paris Carolyn Carlson ()
- The New York Times, December 3, 1968 (Article preview)
- Carolyn Carlson bibliography at UNESCO Office Venice
- Carolyn Carlson at the Atelier de Paris
- Carolyn Carlson at Biennale de la Dance 2008
- Carolyn Carlson at Federal Agency of Culture and Cinematography
- Carolyn Carlson at CCN Roubaix
- Carolyn Carlson at the Biennale Danza (in Italian)