|Born||New York, New York|
|Residence||New York, New York|
|Alma mater||Wayne State University|
|Agent||William Morris Endeavor|
|Home town||Detroit, Michigan|
Sonya Tayeh is a dance teacher and jazz and contemporary choreographer from Detroit, Michigan best known for being a choreographer on the television series So You Think You Can Dance. In 2013, she was nominated for an Emmy Award for her work on season nine.
Tayeh was a house dancer during her teenage years and she did not start any formal dance training until she was 18 and a student at Wayne State University. After graduating in 2002, she moved to California and ran a dance company in San Francisco where she developed her own style of choreography which she calls combat jazz. In 2007, she was discovered by a talent agent from McDonald Selznick Associates who saw a performance she choreographed for The Carnival: Choreographer’s Ball. Three months after being signed, she booked a job on So You Think You Can Dance.
Since gaining mainstream exposure, Tayeh has choreographed for Madonna, Florence and the Machine, Kylie Minogue, the Los Angeles Ballet, Martha Graham Dance Company and the San Jose Repertory Theater. Aside from theater and tours, she stays active teaching jazz and contemporary classes at dance conventions.
Life and career
Early life and education
Tayeh was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in Detroit, Michigan. She has two sisters and one half-brother. Tayeh started dancing at age 15 when she began frequenting hip-hop and house dance parties with her sister. She started studying ballet and modern dance—as a subject—at age 17 when she was a student at Henry Ford Community College. Although Tayeh was a freestyle house dancer in her youth, she didn't take any formal dance classes until she was 18 and a student Wayne State University. Before starting her training, she was denied by six dance studios who wouldn't let her take classes because they felt she was too old. In addition to her classes, Tayeh was a member of Counter Groove and Full Circle dance companies.
During her time at Wayne State, Tayeh drew on dance history, anatomy, and performance to develop a style that is built on core strength, aggressive partner interaction, and quirky, stylized movements. She graduated Wayne State in 2002 with a bachelor's degree in Dance.
Dance career and mainstream exposure
Tayeh honed her style of combat jazz over the course of four years while co-directing The Dance Company of San Francisco with her friend and colleague Chris Jacobsen. An alumnus of The Dance Company of San Francisco is Nick Lazzarini who won the first season of So You Think You Can Dance. When the company closed in 2007, Tayeh moved to Los Angeles and started a dance company called Tayeh Dance. In an interview with Dance Spirit magazine she stated that she named the company in honor of her father who died when she was young. In Los Angeles, she was discovered by talent agent Andrew Jacobs from McDonald Selznick Associates (MSA). Jacobs saw a performance that Tayeh choreographed at The Carnival: Choreographer’s Ball. After he approached her, Tayeh invited him and the rest of the MSA staff to see "The Root of Me"—a show she directed and choreographed that the Carnival performance was taken from. The day after the viewing, Tayeh was signed to MSA. Three months after being signed, she was booked as a choreographer for So You Think You Can Dance.
Since gaining mainstream exposure, Tayeh has choreographed tours and/or live events for Madonna, Florence and the Machine, Kylie Minogue, Kerli, and Miley Cyrus. She has also choreographed for Steed Lord and spent three years in residence with the Los Angeles Ballet. In 2010, she choreographed indie singer Lucy Schwartz' music video "Graveyard".
Tayeh choreographed the rock musical The Last Goodbye which is based on Romeo and Juliet and set to a soundtrack of music by Jeff Buckley. It premiered in 2010, but a revised version of the show with a new cast opened in September 2013 at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, California. In 2011, she choreographed another musical called Spring Awakening for the San Jose Reparatory Theater. In 2014, she choreographed an off-Broadway play based on Bruce Lee's life called Kung Fu. It premiered February 24 with So You Think You Can Dance alumnus Cole Horibe playing the lead role.
In 2015 Martha Graham Dance Company commissioned a new work by Sonya Tayeh which she set to the music of Meredith Monk. It premiered in the company's New York season at The Joyce, Spring 2015 and has been performed by the company while on tour.
Tayeh is a faculty member at the Edge Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles. She has also taught classes at The Hip Drop Dance Complex, Monsters of Contemporary, Broadway Dance Center, 24 Seven Dance, Hall of Fame Dance Challenge, Loyola Marymount University, NUVO, and Spotlight Dance Works.
Style and influences
Tayeh describes her choreography style as combat jazz because in her words "[i]t’s staccato, aggressive, and engaged, even when it’s slow." SanJose.com characterized it as "fearless, provocative and unique." She has several influences which include two of her former college professors Diane Mancinelli and Erica Wilson-Perkins, Broadway choreographers Twyla Tharp and Bill T. Jones, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, her favorite choreographer Jiří Kylián, and her family. In addition, she calls competitive hip-hop dancer Salah her "idol" and Icelandic singer Björk her "ultimate hero".
Awards and recognition
In January 2009, Tayeh was named one of Dance magazine's "25 to Watch". In 2010, she was honored by the Detroit Arts Council and she made the December cover of Dance Teacher magazine. At Wayne State University there is a scholarship named after her called the Sonya Tayeh Endowment Fund that is awarded to students who want to pursue a degree in dance.
In July 2013, Tayeh was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography for "Possibly Maybe", "Turning Page", and "Sail"—three routines she choreographed on season nine of So You Think You Can Dance. At the 2013 Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony, she joined the other seven choreography nominees and created a routine honoring dance that was performed just before the Outstanding Choreography award was presented. 2013 was the first year the Outstanding Choreography award was presented at the Primetime Emmys telecast rather than at the Creative Arts Emmys ceremony which takes place a week prior.
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