Five Women in Choreography

Women are historically under-represented when it comes to choreographing ballets. In honor of Women’s History Month, we are highlighting five women with unique choreographic points of view who have or will create works at PNB. Learn more about these women and their creative approaches below!

“Art is truly a powerful force in the world, and it is through artists that we give change a voice. It is mandatory that we create and continue to do so for the generations to come. Because once we are gone, our art will be the only thing left.”

– Amanda Morgan

Amanda Morgan is from Tacoma, Washington. She joined Pacific Northwest Ballet as an apprentice in 2016. Amanda was promoted to corps de ballet in 2017 and to soloist in 2022, making her the first black woman to do so in the company’s history.

In addition to her dance career, Morgan is a choreographer, mentor, and activist. She has choreographed multiple times for PNB’s Next Step Program. In 2019, she was selected to be a choreographer in the Seattle International Dance Festival and won a residency at Northwest Film Forum and Velocity Dance Center. Later in 2019, she founded the collective The Seattle Project, which is a platform and a network of interdisciplinary artists collaborating to create new work and dance that is accessible to the community, and uplifts BIPOC and LGBTQ+ artists. In October of 2020, Morgan made her first piece for Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Digital Season and co-founded Pacific Northwest Ballet School’s Mentorship Program. In 2021, Morgan was named “25 to Watch” by Dance Magazine. She was also featured on the National Endowment for the Arts podcast in February of 2021. Morgan recently co-choreographed and performed here because with The Seattle Project which The Stranger said, “featured an incredible diversity of movement.” Morgan is choreographing a piece for PNB’s upcoming Next Step program in collaboration with Christopher D’Ariano, which will premiere in June at On the Boards.

Morgan’s heritage is important to her and her work. Her mother is from the Dominican Republic and her father is Puerto Rican. As an Afro-Latina, it is important to Morgan to bring her full self to everything she does, including choreography. You can hear more about Amanda Morgan and her work in the video below.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa

“Around age 28, I decided I enjoyed choreography much more than dancing and gave up my career to jump into the void. I love the unknown, not knowing what’s going to happen tomorrow. As a choreographer, I go out there to create things, and I make my own decisions. Since the age of 30, I’ve been doing that.”

– Annabelle Lopez Ochoa

Colombo-Belgian Annabelle Lopez Ochoa completed her dance studies at the Royal Ballet School of Antwerp, Belgium. In 2003, following her 12-year career in various European dance companies, Lopez Ochoa decided to focus solely on choreography. In that same year she was hailed “rising star of the Dutch dance scene” (NRC newspaper) and 7 years later, the Temecula Performing Arts Examiner wrote, “Ochoa is truly a masterful choreographer with an edge for what dance can and should be in this constantly changing industry.”

Lopez Ochoa is a versatile choreographer who works regularly with dance companies but also creates for theater, opera, musical theater, and (in 2006), for celebrated Dutch fashion designers Viktor & Rolf’s project at the Van Gogh Museum. She belongs to the Theater-Dance collective “Fantasten” with whom she’s created five full-length pieces. In 2012, she created her first full-length ballet, A Streetcar Named Desire, for the Scottish Ballet.

Lopez Ochoa has created several full-length works that center the stories of other female artists such as Coco Chanel and Frida Kahlo. These women have complicated stories, but that is exactly why Lopez Ochoa is attracted to creating work about them. She wants to portray more complex female characters on stage, rather than the common “damsel in distress” narrative. “I’m hoping to make these ballets, but also to create those roles for ballerinas.” Hear more about Lopez Ochoa’s work in the video below.

“The primary question I ask myself when creating work is, ‘How can I not only highlight the beauty that’s already there in the dancers but also find what they don’t know about themselves that I see and they don’t?’ If I focus on who they are as people, the message will be clear, and the audience will see themselves in it. I want to make choreography that is accessible, and I’m not interested in a homogenized cast. I want to show audiences what the world could look like if we were all dancing. Inclusivity is a word that gets tossed around a lot, especially in today’s political climate, but inclusivity is my whole life, not just a trend. By taking care of one another in abstract and literal ways through dance, we can make a shift in the right direction, even if it’s really small.”

-Rena Butler

Rena Butler hails from Chicago, IL. She has danced with several companies, including Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, A.I.M. by Kyle Abraham, and Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company. Most recently, she danced with Gibney Company, and in 2021 was named their inaugural Choreographic Associate.

In 2019, Butler received the prestigious 2019 Princess Grace Foundation Award for Choreography. She has created work for several dance companies, including the National Ballet of Canada, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Ballet X, and Oregon Ballet Theater. She has been spotlighted in Dance Magazine’s On The Rise feature in 2013, and the featured cover story in Dance Magazine’s November 2021 issue.

Butler served on the Consortium for Chicago Dancemakers Forum for 3 years, was on the annual panel for Black Girls Dance in Chicago, and co-created and directed DanceLab—a free, choreographic course for Chicago teens, empowering participants of varying socioeconomic backgrounds + identities to find commonality in creation. She currently serves on Dancewave’s Artistic Advisory Council in NYC.

In her work, Butler responds to world events and their impact on individuals. Pulling from her many influences and her identity as a black, cis-gendered female, her choreography reflects the many lives lived by multifaceted people. Human identity has a natural intersection of many ideals and hurdles, which Butler seeks to express in her work. Watch an example of Butler’s choreography in the video below.

“I have a great mom who used to always tell me as a kid that it was cool to be different and that I should embrace my uniquenesses and run with them. Her words have helped me tremendously to push through the tough spots and to remember to prioritize the authenticity and heart in what I do. It’s not always the easiest path and definitely one not void of failure, but, in the end, for me at least, it is always the most rewarding way to go.” 

– Robyn Mineko Williams

Robyn Mineko Williams is from Chicago, IL. She is the founder and director of Robyn Mineko Williams and Artists (RMW&A), which houses and shares a body of interdisciplinary performances created in collaboration with dynamic artists and designers. Prioritizing public, malleable forms of presentation, RMW&A creates by intertwining performance, design, people, and place.

Mineko Williams’ work has been presented at the Kennedy Center, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, Thalia Hall, Jacob’s Pillow, the Joyce Theater, MCA Chicago, and more. Commissions include Pacific Northwest Ballet, Royal New Zealand Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and Malpaso Dance Company among others. She has been in residence at Baryshnikov Arts Center and the Chicago Cultural Center and is a Princess Grace Foundation-USA Choreographic Fellowship recipient. Mineko Williams works as a creative director and movement consultant on an array of projects including film, immersive experiences, installation, music videos, and event production. She is currently on faculty at the Chicago Academy for the Arts and has taught and set work at Springboard Danse Montreal, Point Park University, UNCSA, USC, The Juilliard School, University of Iowa, University of Chicago, Western Michigan University, and UCLA Long Beach. 

In her work, Mineko Williams is drawn to embodiments of memory, time, lineage, and our relationships with the traces left in us by the people we encounter. Her work has an intimate, personal feel, and she develops that in the studio. She encourages dancers to express their humanity on stage, something that can be challenging for people who are often asked to be super-human. See Mineko Williams’ choreographic process in action in the video below. 

“I never intended to be a ‘female choreographer,’ I intended to be a choreographer. I don’t use that phrase. I’ve never expected to be given an opportunity and I’ve never waited for an invitation. I just set out to make dances and was grateful whenever an opportunity came. And it came because someone believed I had some business doing the work.”

– Twyla Tharp

Twyla Tharp is a prolific creator. She has choreographed more than 160 works: 129 dances, 12 television specials, six movies, four ballets, four Broadway shows, and two figure skating routines. She has received one Tony Award, two Emmy Awards, 19 honorary doctorates, the 2004 National Medal of the Arts, and a 2008 Kennedy Center Honor. In addition to choreographing for her own company, Twyla Tharp Dance, she has created dances for companies including The Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Paris Opera Ballet, The Royal Ballet, New York City Ballet, Boston Ballet, The Australian Ballet, Miami City Ballet, and PNB. 

In addition to choreographing, Tharp has written several books. In 1992, Tharp published her autobiography Push Comes to Shove. She went on to write The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life, followed by The Collaborative Habit: Life Lessons for Working Together. In 2019, her fourth book was published, Keep It Moving: Lessons for the Rest of Your Life. Today, Twyla Tharp continues to create.

Tharp was PNB’s first Artist in Residence in 2013 when she created Waiting At The Station. In total, Tharp has created three ballets for PNB, including Afternoon Ball, Opus 111, as well as Waiting at the Station. Additionally, she has staged four ballets with us: Brief Fling, In the Upper Room, Nine Sinatra Songs, and Waterbaby Bagatelles. Watch some of Tharp’s work in the video below.

Choreographer Twyla Tharp’s work will be featured in our upcoming production THE SEASONS’ CANON, as well as fellow female choreographers Crystal Pite and Jessica Lang. Experience these women’s diverse perspectives and choreographic acumen at this powerful program, which runs April 12 – 21, 2024!

Photo credits – Amanda Morgan, photo © Angela Sterling. Annabelle Lopez Ochoa in rehearsal, photo © Lindsay Thomas. Rena Butler, photo © Mark Mann. Robyn Mineko Williams in rehearsal with Elizabeth Murphy, photo © Lindsay Thomas. Twyla Tharp, photo © Lindsay Thomas.