Sarah Michelson

Choreographer Class of 2019

Expanding the scope of contemporary dance in works that extend and subvert classical, modern, and postmodern traditions and make evident the physical realities of dancers’ performance.

location icon Location
New York, New York
age iconAge
55 at time of award
area of focus iconArea of Focus

About Sarah's Work

Sarah Michelson is a choreographer expanding the scope of contemporary dance in works that explore the nature of dance itself, both as an art form and as physical, intellectual, and emotional labor. She unites allusions to techniques, movements, and presentation styles from past sources through a unique aesthetic vision as she interrogates, extends, and subverts modernist and postmodern dance traditions.

Michelson considers the space and context in which a work is performed—from the floor and seating arrangements to the history of the venue—as essential components of the work’s creation and execution. For Daylight (for Minneapolis) (2005), she used risers to transform the space of a large auditorium into one that conveyed the intimacy of a small performance venue. Her configuration of the venue in which Devotion (2011) took place encouraged an identification between audience and dancer by having the audience occupy the physical space usually reserved for performance. The physicality of dance is paramount to Michelson’s practice. Through the repetition of phrases and sequences that evolve through almost imperceptible shifts, she makes the intense concentration and physical endurance of the dancers visible to the viewer while also confounding the viewers’ sense of time and space. In Devotion Study #1 – The American Dancer (2012), Michelson explores a single movement, drawn from an earlier work in the Devotion series, for nearly ninety minutes. As the dancers circle backward in tightly choreographed loops that form intricate, precise patterns, the audience witnesses the sheer effort, control, and drive of the dancers as their bodies are pushed to extremes, provoking a sense of transcendence in both viewer and performer.

Michelson continues her exploration of the pleasures, sacrifices, and viability of a life dedicated to dance in a series of recent works, including September 2017/\\, created in collaboration with undergraduate dance students over four years, and June 2019/\\, performed as a solo by the choreographer herself. Aging is a central theme of these works, as Michelson asks herself and the audience to contemplate what it means to grow older as a dancer. In her critical meditations on the inherent value of dance, Michelson is reaffirming the generative power of the work of art.


Sarah Michelson received a BA (1984) from the University of London, a Performance Diploma (1985) from Trinity Laban Dance Centre, and an MFA (1990) from Mills College. Her work has been presented and commissioned by the Whitney Museum, MoMA, the Walker Art Center, Movement Research, The Kitchen, PS 122, Performance Space New York, River to River Festival, Danspace Project, On the Boards, and Chapter Arts Cardiff, Wales, and has toured to Cutting Edge Festival, Venice Biennale, SommerSzene Salzburg, Tanz im August Berlin, ICA London, ArtCenter, ODC Theater, Kampnagel, Tanzhaus nrw, and Zuercher Theater Spektakel. Her additional works include tournamento (2015); For James Tyson (2015); R2R attempt 2 (2016); October 2017/\\February 2018/\\; May 2018/\\; and October 2018/\\.

Published on September 25, 2019

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