Trajal Harrell

Dancer, Choreographer
Born Douglas, GA, 1968
Lives in New York, NY

Photo by David Bergé.

[The grant] was a wonderful surprise and extremely useful.

Trajal Harrell, December 30, 2014


Trajal Harrell is a dancer and choreographer. He is known for a series of works entitled Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (2011) which reimagine a meeting between early postmodern dance and the voguing dance tradition created in seven sizes. Antigone Sr./ Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (L)–– the largest in the series––won the 2012 New York Dance and Performance “Bessie" Award for Best Production. In fall 2012, Harrell premiered the last work in the series at MoMA PS1, Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem (Made-to-Measure)/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (Made-to-Measure)… (2012). His work Used Abused and Hung Out to Dry examined Butoh dance from the theoretical praxis of voguing and premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in February 2013.

Harrell's work has been presented at venues including Crossing the Line Festival, The Kitchen, New York Live Arts, Portland Institute of Contemporary Art's Time-Based Art Festival, the Walker Arts Center, the American Realness festival, Danspace Project, Dance Theater Workshop, Performance Space 122, Philadelphia Live Arts, REDCAT, Cornell University, Colorado College, and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. His work has been presented internationally at festivals such as Festival d'Automne, Paris; Rencontres Chorégraphiques, Paris; Festival d'Avignon, Avignon; Impulstanz, Vienna; TanzimAugust, Berlin; Panorama Festival, Rio de Janeiro; Festival Transmériques, Montreal; and Holland Festival, Netherlands. Harrell has also shown performance work in visual art contexts at The Museum of Modern Art, the New Museum, MoMA PS1, The Margulies Collection at the WAREhOUSE, Miami; Perfoma Biennial; Fondation Cartier pour l'Art Contemporain, Paris; the Bronx Museum of the Arts; Fundação Serralves, Porto; Centre Pompidou-Metz, Metz; and Art Basel, Miami Beach.

Prior to his 2014 Grants to Artists award, Harrell received fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (2012), and The Saison Foundation (2013); he has also received awards from the Art Matters Foundation (2013) and the Doris Duke Foundation (2014). Harrell received an FCA Emergency Grant in 2011 to purchase a Macbook Pro to support the audio for the touring of Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church to the Festival Rencontres Choréographiques Internationales de Seine-Saint-Denis, Paris, in May 2011.

Artist Statement

I am primarily inspired by history. I re-imagine events in history as a way to get audiences to develop a greater value for dance and art in our culture. I introduce audiences to these strategies by posing a question that presents a historical impossibility 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 theater or what Martha Graham referred to when she said “theater was a verb before it was a noun." I believe that one of the things artists can do is help people believe in the impossible and the power of the imagination. We still need these tools to solve some of our greatest problems on the planet including the ability to live together amongst different cultures and 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.

December 2013