Trajal Harrell

Doris Duke Impact Award, 2014

New York, NY

Choreographer Trajal Harrell creates works that re-imagine events in history. His work has been presented widely across the US and internationally. He is perhaps best known for a series of works, Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church, which re-imagine a meeting between early postmodern dance and the voguing dance tradition. The eight-part series, which has been supported by multiple MAP Fund and NEFA FUSED grants, was a culmination of ten years of research. Antigone Sr., the largest in the series, won a 2012 Bessie Award, and the last work, Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem, was the first dance commission of MoMA PS1. He has received a Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grant (2014), a Creative Capital Award (2013), and a Guggenheim Fellowship (2012). His latest body of work examines butoh dance from the theoretical praxis of voguing. This latest work Used Abused and Hung Out to Dry, premiered at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in February 2013.

  • Photo Credit: Bengt Gustafsson
  • Antigone Sr./Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (L) (2012)
  • (M)imosa/ Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (M) (2011)
  • Photo Credit: Ian Douglas
    Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem (Made-to Measure)/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (2012)

Artistically, what do you do & why do you do it?

I am a choreographer-dancer. I am primarily inspired by history. I generally re-imagine events in history as a way to get audiences to develop a greater value for dance and art in our culture. I try to introduce audiences to these strategies by posing a question that is historically impossible, and then I try to get the audience and performers to wrap their heads around the question together. It's the togetherness that I am after. When it works, it demands a kind of liveness that commits us to what I deem the origins of theatre or what Martha Graham referred to as when "theatre was a verb before it was a noun." As an artist, I believe that one of the things artists can do is help people believe in the impossible and the power of the imagination. These tools are still needed to solve some of our greatest problems on the planet, including the ability to live together amongst different beliefs. In the past, I posed questions related to the inter-related history of early American postmodern dance and the Voguing dance tradition. My new research examines the late founder of butoh dance, Tatsumi Hijikata, as seen through the lens of voguing.