5 Contemporary Choreographers You Should Know

Jade Bates

Love contemporary choreography? Here are five of today’s leading contemporary choreographers that everyone should know.

Contemporary choreography is perhaps one of today’s most popular styles of dance. It combines elements of improvisation with aspects of ballet, jazz, lyrical, and modern dance. Although it’s rooted in classical ballet, contemporary choreography doesn’t adhere to strict rules and choreographers freely create new movements, draw inspiration from unique sources, and incorporate various genres of music like electronic and world music. Since its inception in the early 20th century, choreographers have experimented with movement to create bold new works that have helped to shake up the dance space. Let’s meet some of today’s most influential and prolific contemporary choreographers. 


William Forsythe 

  • Known for his out-of-the-box and revolutionary interpretation of ballet 
  • Called “the most influential practitioner of the art form since Balanchine” (Roslyn Sulcas, The New York Times).

William Forsythe’s The Barre Project is part of his two-part series, Blake Works, and was crafted via video calls between Forsythe and dancer Tiler Peck during the first lockdown. 

William Forsythe is an American choreographer known for his groundbreaking contributions to the world of dance and is credited with revolutionizing the world of ballet. In his youth, Forsythe was a violin prodigy and was immersed in the world of music playing the bassoon, and flute, and singing in choruses in addition to his impressive violin skills. He didn’t start formally studying dance until university, but boy are we glad he did. 

He studied with the Joffrey Ballet School where he learned the fundamentals of classical ballet that would form the core of his innovative choreography. He then moved to Germany to dance with the Stuttgart Ballet where he debuted his first piece, Urlicht, and soon after he became the company’s resident choreographer. It was here that he developed his signature style. Forsythe believes that classical ballet is a necessary language with rules to follow. His work lies in bending and breaking these rules, taking traditional positions, and developing them to the extreme.

In 1984, Forsythe was appointed director of the Frankfurt Ballet where he stayed for 20 years. There, he continued developing his dance style, incorporating video projections, spoken word, and electronic music, and creating new extreme movements for the company’s dancers. When the ballet closed in 2004 he formed his own company, The Forsythe Company, now called The Dresden Frankfurt Dance Company. Throughout his extensive career, Forsythe has choreographed for acclaimed companies like the Paris Opera Ballet, Nederlands Dans , The San Francisco Ballet, The Royal Ballet, and many more. His most famous work was one commissioned by the ballet legend Rudolf Nureyev titled In the Middle, somewhat elevated, which is part of his larger work Impressing the Czar. Today, his repertoire is performed in nearly every major ballet company in the world. 

Crystal Pite 

  • Known for her innovative Theater/Dance hybrid style 
  • 4 time Olivier Award winner 

Crystal Pite’s Betroffenheit is a witty, tender exploration of isolation and coming to terms with tragedy, that combines tap, salsa, spoken word, song and puppetry. It’s no wonder it took home an Olivier Award. 

Crystal Pite is an incredible Canadian choreographer and dancer who has been shaking up the dance scene with her radical dance-meets-theater hybrid style. She began her career as a dancer with the British Columbia Ballet at just 17 years old. After a few years with the company, Pite began to take an interest in choreography and premiered her first professional work, Between Bliss and Me, at just 19 years old. In the same year, Pite danced a piece by William Forsythe and was instantly attracted to his signature out-of-the-box style. She soon moved to Ballett Frankfurt to study under Forsythe’s direction and began choreographing her own innovative performances with the company.

She developed her own unique style, in collaboration with playwright Jonathan Young, combining theatrical audio recordings with eccentric dance movements to create captivating narratives. In 2002 she formed her own company, Kidd Pivot, Kidd after the historic outlaw and prizefighter, and Pivot in reference to “something you have to have the skill and a technique to achieve perfectly’’. Pite began crafting bold new works with her company, taking on challenging themes of trauma, addiction, conflict, consciousness, and mortality, like her Olivier Award-winning piece Betroffenheit, which explores the trauma of grief. In 2010, Kidd Pivot became the resident dance company of the German theatre Künstlerhaus Mousonturm, a theater known for promoting experimental and innovative works. To date, Pite had choreographed over 50 works for companies like The Paris Opera Ballet, Netherlands Dans , The Royal Ballet, and more.  Her latest piece for The Royal Ballet, Light of Passage, has already been nominated for an Olivier award. What can we say, people love Pite. 

Akram Khan 

  • Known for his unique fusion of Kathak ( Indian Classical Dance) and Contemporary dance
  • First non-musician to become Artistic Director of the London Southbank Centre 
  • Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his services to dance.

Akram Khan’s Sacred Monsters is a stunning collaboration with dance superstar Sylvie Guillem, and shows off his signature Kathak-inspired dance style. 

If you’ve seen a dance piece from the UK in the last two decades, chances are you’ve seen some of Akram Khan’s beautiful work. Born in London to Bangladeshi parents, Akram Khan has become known for his beautiful fusion of the Kathak (Indian Classical Dance) style and Western contemporary dance. Like many of the people on this list, Khan started young, touring as a professional dancer at just 10 years old, and landing the international tour of Peter Brook’s Mahabharata at 14. After studying Kathak for many years Khan expanded his dance vocabulary and headed to De Montfort University to study contemporary dance. It was there that he began producing solo works experimenting with combining the two dance forms.  After graduating from university, Akram Khan became the first non-musician to be appointed Artistic Director of the London Southbank Centre. 

It didn’t take long for Khan to form his own dance company with former dancer Farooq Chaudhry. The Akram Khan company was formed in 2000, and instantly made a name for itself in the international dance scene and even performed at the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony. Khan collaborates frequently with artists like composers Nitin Sawhney and Steve Reich, sculptor Antony Gormley and writer Hanif Kureishi, to create immersive works. Akram Khan also frequently collaborates with other dancers and choreographers like Sylvie Guillem, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Juliette Binoche, and even singer Kylie Minogue. In addition to his own company Akram Khan creates works for international dance companies like Ballet Boyz and Taiwan’s Cloud Gate Dance Company. His most famous work, Giselle, was a co-production with the Manchester International Festival and the English National Ballet. The work re-imagines the classic ballet in a way only Akram Khan can and its first performance solidified Khan’s place as one of the great contemporary choreographers.

 Mark Morris 

  • Known for his flamboyant neoclassical style 
  • Recipient of 11 honorary doctorates 
  • Called the ‘’Mozart of modern dance’’ 

Don’t worry, no dancers were harmed in the making of this video. Mark Morris’ L’Allegor, il Penseroso ed il Moderato is considered to be one of his most famous pieces. 

Mark Morris is an American choreographer who has become known for his eccentric personality and eclectic neoclassical choreography. He is acclaimed for his ingenuity and craftsmanship, creating colorful and often humorous works. As a child, Morris developed a deep love for music, learning to read musical notation from his father, a passion that has followed him through his career. Always having a flair for the dramatic, he began studying Spanish Dance age of 8 in his hometown of Seattle, Washington. He began choreographing at a young age too, creating his first contemporary piece at 14 while away at summer camp, and his first ballet piece at 15. Styles, including folk, classical ballet, and modern

After high school, Morris traveled to Madrid to study flamenco, he even toured with the Royal Chamber Ballet of Madrid, but his love for choreography quickly took over. In 1980 he founded the Mark Morris Dance Group where he developed his unique contemporary style. By the age of 30 Mark Morris was the foremost contemporary choreographer in America, and for good reason. Nicknamed the ‘’Mozart of modern dance’’, his work is nothing short of prolific. To date, he has created over 150 works with his dance group and guest choreographed for many of the world’s leading dance companies. While he is most famous for his contemporary pieces, Morris is also well respected as a ballet choreographer. 

His pieces are closely tied to the musical score they are set to, following the musical form and drawing inspiration from the subject of the music. One of his most famous pieces, l’Allegro,il Penseroso ed il Moderato, is a perfect example of this. Set to Handel’s pastoral ode of the same title, the piece is structured around three movements of the music and draws inspiration for the set and costumes from artwork and poems created for Handel’s piece. It’s no wonder his skills were in high demand in the opera world. In 1986 he began working frequently as a choreographer for major opera companies like Seattle Opera, The Royal Opera, and Glyndebourne. He soon began directing full opera productions in addition to his choreography, and in 2006 he even tried his hand at conducting. To date, he has worked on over 15 full-length operas. It’s no wonder the New York Times has called him ‘’the most successful and influential choreographer alive, and indisputably the most musical.’’ 

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

  • Known for flawlessly combining multiple dance styles 
  • 2 time Olivier Award Winner 

This clip from Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Babel 7.6 showcases the choreographer’s unique kinetic style.

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui is a Flemish/Moroccan choreographer known for his fusion of international dance styles. At the age of 17 Cherkaoui began studying classical ballet, hip-hop, and flamenco. By 19 he had won first place for a solo dance piece that combined vogueing, African dance, and hip-hop motifs, proving to audiences that he has a gift for flawlessly combining dance styles. At 23, after studying at Anne Teresa Keersmaker Brussels School of Dance, P.A.R.T.S., Cherkaoui was a full-time professional dancer.  

He made his debut as a choreographer in 1999 with his work Anonymous Society and has since choreographed over 50 works with dance companies all over the world. In 2010 he founded his own company called Eastman in Antwerp. In that same year, Cherkaoui won his first Oliver Award for his work Babel(words) which he co-created with choreographer Damien Jalet and Antony Gormley.  This was just one of his many awards, including two Olivier Awards, and three Ballet Tanz awards for best choreographer. 

Over the years Cherkaoui has collaborated with incredible artists and choreographers like Akram Khan (Zero Degrees– 2005), Sasha Waltz (d’avant – 2002) and, more recently he made his Broadway debut in Alanis Morissette’s new musical Jagged Little Pill, and was nominated for a Tony Award in the category Best Choreography. He is the first Belgian choreographer to be nominated in this category. Starting from the season 2022-2023, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui will direct the Ballet of the Grand Théâtre de Genève. If you can’t make it to Geneva to see his performances, watch some of his greatest pieces on Marquee TV

Jiří Kylián

  • Known for his unique kinetic dance style 
  • Considered a ‘’Living legend’’ of dance 

Birth-day was inspired, in part, by Kylián’s wife and muse, Sabine Kupferberg, and features hilarious vignettes set to Mozart’s music, starring Sabine herself. 

Jiří Kylián is a Czech, former, dancer and contemporary dance choreographer known for his acrobatic-inspired works and for using stillness as an artistic device in his work. After seeing a circus performance as a young child, Kylián was dead set on becoming an acrobat and began studying the art. However, his plans changed at 9 years old after seeing his first ballet. It was then that he knew that dance was the path for him. He immediately began studying at the National Ballet Prague, and after a few years at the school, he received a scholarship to study at The Royall Ballet School, in London. From there he went to the Stuttgart Ballet, where he made his choreographic debut with his piece, Paradox.  

He became the artistic director of Nederlands Dans Theater in 1975 and helped to put the company on the map with his piece Sinfonietta. While he was with the company, Kylián became known internationally for his unique kinetic style and clever use of humor which captivated audiences during his tenure. Perhaps his most significant contribution though was the creation of Nederlands Dans Theater II, and Nederlands Dans Theater III. The programs respectively provided a place for young dancers to hone their craft and work with the professional company and provided a space for dancers over the age of 40 to continue their craft in a professional environment. 

Throughout his career, Kylián has created nearly 100 works that continue to be performed all over the world. Some of his most popular works include Bella Figura, featuring mysteriously androgynous topless dancers, Falling Angels, an insightful ballet that explores the highs and lows of womanhood, and Petit Mort, created to mark the second centenary of Mozart’s death. Kylián credits the inspiration for most of his work to his partner and muse Sabine Kupferberg, and he continues to celebrate her through his work. There is such a thing as true love! 

So, there you have it, five living contemporary choreographers who are revolutionizing the world of dance. Check out your local theater to see if their pieces are being performed, or steam them anytime on Marquee TV. 

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