Twenty four new recipients for MacArthur Fellowships were announced today. They include two from the dance world, Alexei Ratmansky, who is currently the resident choreographer for American Ballet Theater, and Kyle Abraham, who has his own company, Abraham. In. Motion. Both have worked extensively with major ballet and contemporary dance companies in the U.S. and abroad. Abraham’s work, Another Night, with music by Dizzy Gillespie, was seen most recently in Los Angeles in the 2013 repertory programs of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. He was the 2012 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award winner. Alexei Ratmansky’s choreography for The Bright Stream, Firebird, and Chamber Symphony (one section from the Shostakovich Trilogy) has been presented in Los Angeles on touring programs with ABT.

Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky leaning on a production stage box
Alexei Ramantsky − Photo © John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Since the awards originated in 1981, it has never been awarded solely for dancing. Past winners in dance, such as Twyla Tharp, Bill T. Jones, Jeraldyne Blunden, and Trisha Brown, like Mr. Abraham, have usually been recognized as choreographers and dancers, or coupled with another related discipline such as film making. When Jacques d’Amboise, the legendary dancer of New York City Ballet, was awarded the fellowship in 1990 it was for his groundbreaking work as a dance educator in encouraging young dancers through his National Dance Institute, which he founded in 1976. The award, as the MacArthur’s note, is not based on past achievement, but awarded more as “an investment in a person's originality, insight, and potential”. Mr. d’Amboise will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award this November as part of the Dance Under the Stars Festival for choreography in Palm Desert, California.

Merce Cunningham was the first choreographer to receive a fellowship 1985. Peter Sellars was the first working in theater and opera to win the award in 1983. He went on to work with choreographer Mark Morris, a 1991 awardee, in the John Adam’s opera, Nixon in China which premiered in 1987. Sellars was an early experimenter with opera. I saw his production of Haydn’s Crusade’s era opera, Armida, which was set in Vietnam, on a stage filled with jeeps and helicopters. That investment in “originality” went on to pay off handsomely in his version of Handel’s baroque grand opus, Orlando, an opera, which was set in outer space.

Kyle Abraham leaning over a ballet barre
Kyle Abraham − Photo © John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

The award is a truly eclectic one, having gone to an assortment of composers, scientists, activists, artists, historians and writers, but also geriatricians, a blacksmith, a trombonist, a rural doctor, an arachnologist, a mime, a weaver, and a cattle rancher. Each awardee now receives $650,000 as a no strings attached prize. They are selected without application by an anonymous panel.

The last choreographer to receive the award was Shen Wei in 2007. His works, Re-(Parts I, II, III) and Connect Transfer, both for Shen Wei Dance Arts, have been seen here in Los Angeles. For Connect Transfer at Disney Hall, the dancers, slathered in paint, created a giant painting on a portable canvas. Ratmansky will, no doubt, be back with new works for ATB, but in the meantime, you can see Kyle Abraham’s work, Kollide, in the BODYTRAFFIC concert scheduled for October 11th and 12th at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica. It will be part of a repertory program with two other works.

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