This choreographer made history at American Ballet Theatre (ABT), premiering a performance with an all-Black production.
Black dancers have been showing up and showing out for the community this year; Misty Copeland’s after-school ballet program is making dance more accessible to monitory students, and Jonathan Batista was recently named the first Black Principal Dancer for the Pacific Northwest! Now, Jamaica-born choreographer and dancer Christopher Rudd is up next!
Christopher Rudd is a choreographer who blends dancing with social justice. His dance career started at nine years old in Miami, FL. By 11, he was the first Black child to dance the title role in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. After graduating from the New World School of the Arts High School, he attended Dance Theatre of Harlem Summer Intensive for four summers on a full scholarship. Throughout his career, Rudd has had the pleasure of working with some of the biggest names in the dance world, and he’s had the opportunity to grace many stages, such as the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. All of this molded him into the renowned choreographer he is today. Rudd has been the recipient of various grants and awards; he was the first recipient of The New World School of the Arts Alumni Foundation’s Inspiration Grant and was honored to be a 2019-20 New Victory Theater LabWorks Artist. Not only has his work been seen across the country and internationally, but he’s choreographed for a plethora of schools and colleges such as Earl Mosley’s Institute of the Arts, Duke University, University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and more!
Rudd’s latest work with ABT is the production of the 34-minute piece, Lifted, meant to take you on a self-reflection and self-love journey. He’s showcasing the Black experience “from birth to the awareness of where they stand in Black America.” He doesn’t consider it a protest, but a way to find joy within a work of art. Lifted premiered on October 27th at Lincoln Center’s David A. Koch Theater and ended on October 29th.
The best part of it all is that this is ABT’s first all-Black production. From the backstage crew to the cast members, everyone is Black! When asked why this all-Black crew was important, Rudd told Essence, “The truth is, existing in a predominantly white space, it’s hard to find community and unspoken understanding. When you go into a corporate office in white America, someone will say something, and you’ll look for the other Black person. There’s something about not having to explain. There’s something about having an innate understanding of what someone else is going through for us as individuals. I feel that that could be a magical thing for a company of people and an audience that is used to predominantly white artists. What you are hearing, what you are seeing, what you are, the story you’re journeying through, is all from the imagination and the soul of a Black person. And [of course] it’s not the first Black ballet. There are companies that are predominantly Black. But experiencing this in this venue and with this microphone can have even more impactful global significance. America’s biggest export is our culture. It’s time for the totality of our culture to speak from the totality of our citizenship. And yeah, I feel that’s significant.”
When asked to describe the feeling of opening the ABT’s fall season with this historic production, he replied, “At first, I was filled with so much fear and anxiety. I want this piece to mean so much to so many people and the awareness of the responsibility I was undertaking was quite overwhelming. Now I’m in a place of complete and utter joy. No one piece can mean everything to everyone but opening this door can mean that now everyone can step through it, and it’s just so exciting.”
Another initiative Rudd set out on was founding RudduR Dance to “create works of high artistic merit and as a platform to better the world through dance.” They have presented works on four continents in four years, making its SummerStage debut by participating in a globally accessible Juneteenth Tribute in 2020. He plans to become one of the largest platforms for classical dance in the nation.
This is amazing. Congratulations, Mr. Rudd!
Photo: American Ballet Theater/Karolina Kuras