Art Happens

Trajal Harrell (us)

American choreographer Trajal Harrell gained international recognition for creating a series of works that bring together the tradition of voguing – a modern dance style developed in the late 1980s from the Harlem ballroom scene – with early postmodern dance. In his latest work, the artist combines theoretical ideas of voguing with gestures and formal ideas derived from Butoh, a dance style developed in Japan in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Weaving links between two seemingly distant dance cultures, the artist places the body at the centre of his research. He explores the way the body becomes a vessel of memory, the past and historical characters that have inspired his work. It interweaves notions of time, history and transcultural references, revealing the multitude of layers that make up the rich history of contemporary dance.

Aesthetically, his work is always a tribute to the people on stage. He dresses them in carefully chosen fabrics and is especially inspired by developments in haute couture (which he sometimes uses directly on stage). In combination with his very personal style of movement, he turns his performers into unusual and autonomous beings. In most of his pieces, he also performs himself.

In recent years, his work has been increasingly imitated in the visual art world and he has directed a series of powerful plays for the theatre. These include his adaptation of Sophocles’ Antigone, the free adaptation he developed of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and a new take on Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Maggie the Cat. Maggie the Cat is part of the Porca Miseria trilogy which also includes Deathbed and O Medea. The three pieces were first performed together at Holland Festival in 2022.

Since 2019, Trajal Harrell has been one of the house directors of Het Schauspielhaus Zürich and the founder of the Schauspielhaus Zürich Dance Ensemble. With this company he staged The Köln Concert, Monkey off My Back or the Cat’s Meow and Deathbed, among others.