Karole Armitage (born March 3, 1954) is an American dancer and choreographer currently based in New York City. She is artistic director of Armitage Gone! Dance, a contemporary ballet company that performs several times annually in New York City as well as touring internationally. Dubbed the “punk ballerina” in the 1980s, she was recently Tony-nominated for her choreography of the Broadway musical Hair.
Early life and early career
Born in Madison Wisconsin, Armitage grew up dividing her time in two places: Gothic, Colorado, and Lawrence, Kansas. Gothic was the site of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory where her father, a biologist, did research. Armitage began studying ballet in Lawrence, Kansas at the age of four with former New York City Ballet Dancer, Tomi Wortham, followed by classes in Crested Butte, Colorado with Shirley Strabhaur. She then continued her studies with Ballet West in Aspen and Salt Lake City, at the School of American Ballet the Harkness House in New York City, at North Carolina School of the Arts, and with Leonide Massine in London.
Armitage began her professional career in 1973 as a member of the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève in Switzerland. This was a company directed by George Balanchine and Patricia Neary which was rooted in the Balanchine aesthetic and devoted exclusively to his repertory. There she performed many Balanchine masterworks including Agon, The Four Temperaments and Serenade. From 1976–1981 she was a member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.
In 1978, she created her first piece as a choreographer piece titled Ne, then followed by Drastic-Classicism in 1981. Throughout the 1980s, Armitage led her own company, which was based in New York City. Her company toured internationally and was known for its collaborations with artists David Salle and Jeff Koons. In 1984, she was invited by Mikhail Baryshnikov to create a work for the American Ballet Theatre. Three years later, Rudolph Nureyev commissioned one of her works for the Paris Opéra Ballet. She created five ballets for the Ballet de l'Opéra National de Paris during the 1980s.
From 1995 to 1998, she served as the director and choreographer of the company MaggioDanza in Florence, Italy, moving on to become resident choreographer of the Ballet de Lorraine in Nancy, France, in 1999, where she was to remain until 2002. In 2004, she was the director of the International Festival of Contemporary Dance at the Venice Biennale. Returning to New York City after 15 years abroad, she founded her current company, Armitage Gone! Dance, in 2005.
Armitage's recent collaborators include British composer Thomas Adès, artists; Jeff Koons Jean-Paul Gaultier, Christian Lacroix, Brice Marden, David Salle, Peter Speliopoulos, and Broadway designers; Clifton Taylor, and Philip Taaffe. She has commissioned music and her company regularly performs to live music. The themes of her pieces are as diverse as Audubon's Birds of America. In a recent work "Three Theories" was inspired by Brian Greene's popular science book The Elegant Universe. This premiered at the 2010 World Science Festival (the physics of black holes and string theory). Armitage stated that "Physics makes me dream. I try to think outside the box and open up my mind. I like science. Science always questions authority. This conflict between theories seemed to me so dramatic and so incredibly fundamental." In the summer of 2010 Armitage started to work with the MIT- based composer Tod Machover on his opera titled "Death and the Powers". In this opera Armitage incorporated choreography for robots.
Armitage has created dances for numerous companies including the Paris Opera Ballet, White Oak Dance Project, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, Lyon Opera Ballet, Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the Washington Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, The Kansas City Ballet, the Bern Ballet, The Washington Ballet and Rambert Dance Company. She has directed operas from the baroque and contemporary repertoire for many of the prestigious houses of Europe. These operas include; Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, the Lyric Opera in Athens and Het Muzik Theater in Amsterdam.
In addition to working for the stage, Armitage has worked with pop music, including choreography for Michael Jackson’s "In The Closet" and Madonna’s "Vogue". Armitage has also worked with classical music, such as that of composers Béla Bartók ("Time is the echo of an axe within a wood", György Ligeti ("Ligeti Essays") and, more recently of György's son, Lukas Ligeti. In a conversation with Lukas Ligeti for BOMB Magazine, Armitage described the challenge of choreographing Itutu. Itutu is a dance piece set to both Ligeti’s own compositions and those of Burkina Electric. Burkina Elecrtic is a musical group in which Ligeti works with electronica and Burkinabe popular music. This was an opportunity to "make these disparate, contradictory musical worlds mean something theatrical."
She has also choreographed several movies in collaboration with director, James Ivory, including The Golden Bowl and The White Countess. Her work has been the subject of two documentaries made for television: The South Bank Show (1985), directed by David Hinton and Wild Ballerina (1998), directed by Mark Kidel. Her ballet Rave was filmed for television for the European channel Arte.
In 2012, she choreographed the Cirque du Soleil show "Amaluna" loosely based on Shakespeare's The Tempest, directed by Diane Paulus. A show highlighting the beauty and strength of women.
Armitage is known for her eclectic style, which caused Vanity Fair to dub her the "punk ballerina". Her first piece, Ne, was set to punk music and freely utilized neon lighting. She continued this style of combining classical ballet with punk in Drastic Classicism, adding out-of-the-ordinary costumes to the mix.
Armitage's eclecticism extends to all aspects of her work. Her dance style itself is modern punk with obvious classical roots and a strong classical Japanese influence, but also uses social dance and incorporates numerous aspects of classical ballet including pointe work. She lists classical ballet, Merce Cunningham, and punk as her three presiding influences. She requires the members of her company to be experienced in both modern dance and ballet. Armitage described her ideal company dancers as "virtuosos in the sense that they have a wide range of ability to control their bodies but who don’t look academic."
Awards and honors
Armitage received a 2004 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award. In the spring of 2009, Armitage was awarded France’s most prestigious award, Commandeur dans L’ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
- Kourlas, Gia (19 March 2015). "Karole Armitage’s New Dance Work Traces Steps for a Greener Path". New York Times (New York, United States). Retrieved 19 March 2015.
- Armitage Gone! Dance Website, retrieved 2008-08-04
- Kim, Dave, "Karole Armitage's Last Title", Smyles & Fish, retrieved 2008-08-05; Nancy Reynolds and Malcolm McCormick, No Fixed Points: Dance in the Twentieth Century (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003).
- Arcocella, Joan (June 2, 2008), "Art meets Science", The New Yorker
- Gladstone, Valerie. "Karole Armitage takes on the universe". The Boston Globe. 11 July 2010. Retrieved 16 October 2011. <http://www.boston.com/ae/theater_arts/articles/2010/07/11/choreographer_karole_armitage_takes_on_the_universe/?page=1>
- “Dictionary of Dance: Karole Armitage,” Karole Armitage, http://www.answers.com/topic/karole-armitage-1?cat=entertainment (accessed April 22, 2008)
- Ligeti, Lukas. "Karole Armitage". BOMB Magazine. Spring 2009. Retrieved 28 July 2011.
- Kim, Dave, "Karole Armitage's Last Title", Smyles & Fish, retrieved 2008-08-05
- Robert Greskovic, “Karole Armitage” in Fifty Contemporary Choreographers, electronic book edition, ed. Martha Bremser (Hoboken, NJ: Taylor and Francis, 1999), 22.
- Burns, Melissa. "Melissa's Picks: Karole Armitage". 14 January 2011. retrieved 16 October 2011. <http://dismagazine.com/blog/12471/melissas-picks-karole-armitage/>
- Archival footage of Karole Armitage's dance company Armitage Gone! Dance performing in Three Theories in 2010 at Jacob's Pillow.
- Archival footage of a discussion with Karole Armitage entitled Dancing Through Theoretical Physics at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival on 6/18/2010.
- Armitage GONE! Dance
- profile of Karole Armitage at Smyles & Fish
- Karole Armitage on Answers.com
- Karole Armitage at the Internet Broadway Database
- Karole Armitage at the Internet Movie Database
- 2009 BOMB Magazine interview of Karole Armitage by Lukas Ligeti