Choreographing Modern America

The distinctive look of American dance was created not only by the figures who moved, but by the visionary choreographers who shaped those moves and by the impresarios who put them onstage. Each generation worked to capture the “moment”: beginning in the early twentieth century, pioneering choreographers such as Martha Graham and Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn conveyed the dynamics of America morphing into the modern age—an urban age of machines driven by a staccato beat and relentless speed. Dance created in mid- and late century by such artists as Alvin Ailey and Merce Cunningham reflected America’s growing diversity, abstraction, and fragmentation. Today, choreographers such as Bill T. Jones and Dana Tai Soon Burgess experiment with the new possibilities of America in the twenty-first century, injecting their works with the defining sensibilities of contemporary life.

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

October 4, 2013
through July 13, 2014

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Martha Graham 1894–1991
Edward Steichen (1879–1973)
Gelatin silver print, 1931
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Judith Jamison born 1943
Max Waldman (1919–1981)
Gelatin silver print, 1976
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Bill T. Jones born 1952
Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–1989)
Gelatin silver print, 1985
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