Choreographers depict or respond to tragic events in all kinds of ways, and these examples help demonstrate this multiplicity as well as the universal nature of the human experience.
Solace of Surrender, 2022
This site-specific work was first performed in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery and, in its choreographer’s words, the dance “sketches the eternal cycle of decay and rebirth.”
Michelle N. Gibson with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra / NOJO 7
Takin' It to the Roots, 2022
Drawing upon second line traditions in her native New Orleans, Gibson demonstrates a cultural practice that has been called “a jazz funeral without a body.”
rock is broken, 2020
Two weeks after the Doris Duke Theatre was destroyed by fire, Jacob’s Pillow commissioned Eiko to interact with the theater’s ruins for this site-specific film.
Maya Beiser & Wendy Whelan
THE DAY, 2019
The events of 9/11 inspired this musical work by David Lang with text that was crowd-sourced from the internet and choreography by Lucinda Childs.
Janis Claxton Dance
POP-UP Duets (fragments of love), 2018
No tragic events are depicted in this joyous exploration of love, but choreographer Janis Claxton was in the final stages of a terminal illness and unable to accompany her dancers for this important U.S. premiere, dying just a few weeks later at the age of 53.
Roy Assaf Dance
The Hill, 2017
Israeli choreographer Roy Assaf took both this dance’s title and its inspiration from one of the fiercest battles of the Six-Day War in 1967.
Sunset, o639 Hours, 2016
The fatal 1938 crash of a pioneering trans-Pacific airmail plane is an unconventional theme for a ballet, but Matthew Neenan found the true story of Edwin Musick to be irresistible.
Martha Graham Dance Company
The Rite of Spring, 2013
Over the past century, Stravinsky’s explosive score has been used in all sorts of ways by a range of choreographers, though Martha Graham’s 1984 production hewed closely to the original story of a sacrificial virgin.
Jane Comfort and Company
Underground River, 2011
The premise for this Pillow-commissioned work was Jane Comfort’s imaginings of the rich interior life of a young comatose girl, enhanced by Toshi Reagon’s music and Basil Twist’s puppetry.
Lucy Guerin Inc
Structure and Sadness, 2010
This award-winning work by Australian choreographer Lucy Guerin was inspired by the West Gate Bridge collapse, a tragic event in Melbourne which claimed the lives of 35 men in 1970.
The Dying Swan, 2010
Popularized by Anna Pavlova in 1907, this classic 3-minute solo can be experienced in its entirety here, accompanied live by cellist Yehuda Hanani and pianist Ramona Pansegrau.
Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet
Orbo Novo, 2009
This world premiere by 2022 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award winner Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui was inspired by Jill Bolte Taylor’s My Stroke of Insight about the experience of having a stroke.
Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Dance Company
Fragments of two murder stories were utilized in the text of this work, which The New York Times called “a brilliant blend of abstraction and realistic evocation.”
Rennie Harris Puremovement
Rome and Jewels, 2000
Shakespeare’s tragedies have long served as a rich resource for choreographers, with Romeo and Juliet leading the list as in this hip hop interpretation by Rennie Harris. (Also check out other versions by Joelle Bouvier and Edward Clug.)
Empty Tradition / City of Peonies, 1999
China’s Cultural Revolution was the impetus for this dance, expressing Yin Mei’s own feeling that she was being “robbed of history” as she grew up during this turbulent time.
Stockholm / 59° North
Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven, 1997
Subtitled “Odes to Love and Loss,” this work was inspired by the AIDS crisis, a disease which took the life of its choreographer, Ulysses Dove, at the age of 49.
Carmen de Lavallade
Portrait of Billie, 1992
Choreographer John Butler didn’t shy away from depicting the drug addiction and physical abuse that Billie Holiday suffered during her 44 years of hard living.
After the choreographer John Cranko’s untimely death at the age of 45, his friend Kenneth MacMillan created this work in his memory, working with several longtime muses of Cranko’s, including Richard Cragun.
José Limón Dance Company
The Moor's Pavane, 1951
A masterful distillation of Shakespeare’s Othello, this classic’s final moments are performed here by the iconic original cast.
"Mourner's Bench" from Southern Landscape, 1948
Although the source of his suffering is unspecified, this powerful depiction of mourning is comparable to Martha Graham’s Lamentation in its universality. In addition to this performance by the choreographer himself, check out Taylor Stanley’s 2022 revival.