Choreography has been derived from the Greek root ‘Khoria,’ meaning ‘choral dance’ and ‘Graph’ for ‘writing.’ Literally it stands for ‘dance writing.’ Choreography is the art of creating and arranging dance steps or composing the dance steps and sequence for stage and ballet dancing. The word ‘choreography’ was introduced to American English in the 1950s while the dance was being performed since long ago. The earlier dance performances were expressed as ensembles. Dance choreography is distinguished from choreography in that the latter means ‘the art of designing the sequences of movements, specific to motion and form or both.’ As such, choreography is applicable to fields other than dance such as; gymnastics, fashion shows, ice skating, marching bands, synchronized swimming, and many others. A choreographer is to a dancer what a trainer is to a trainee. The choreographer is the dancer’s organizer and motivator and gives purpose to the dance. The men behind the machines play a vital role in their efficient performance. Similarly, the best dancers may not give their best performance without capable choreographers behind them.
1. George Balanchine
George Balanchine was born as Georgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze in St. Petersburg, Russia on January 22, 1904 and died in New York City, USA on April 30th, 1983, at the age of 79 years. He was one of the most famous choreographers of the 20th century. His name is iconic to choreography and, in fact, the word ‘choreographer’ was first used to credit George Balanchine in the 1936 Broadway show On Your Toes. As a ballet master, he developed ballet in America and New York City Ballet. He performed over 400 ballets. From 1924 to 1929 he worked with great artists and composers like Pablo Picasso, Claude Debussy, Erick Satie, and Henri Matisse. He performed as a guest ballet master at the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen. He was awarded the Presidential Freedom of Honor medal, Kennedy Center Honors Award. He was posthumously inducted into the National Museum of Dance Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney’s Hall of Fame.
2. Sir Frederick William
Sir Frederick William Almandine Ashton OM, CH, CBE, was born at Guayaquil in Ecuador on September 17, 1904 and died in Eye, Suffolk, England on August 18, 1988. He is best known as the founding choreographer of The Royal Ballet in London. As a choreographer, he also performed in opera, film, and theater. He started his career with Ballet Rembert and his very first ballet, The Tragedy of Fashion, performed in 1926 was highly successful. Ashton was honored with the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award from the Royal Academy of Dance in 1959. He was knighted in 1962, made commander of the Order of Dannebrog in 1963, and received a gold medal from the Swedish Carina Aria Foundation in 1972.
3. Katherine Dunham
Katherine Mary Dunham was born in Chicago, USA on June 22, 1909 and died in New York City, U.S. on May 21, 2006 at the age of 96 years. She was an American dancer, choreographer, author, and social activist. She owned the Katherine Dunham Dance Company and was known as the matriarch and queen mother of black dance The Washington Post called her Dance Katherine the Great. She innovated the African-American modern dance. She is also recognized as a leader in the field of ethno-choreography. At the age of 83, she went on strike and Time reported ‘She went on a 47-day hunger strike to protest the U.S.’s forced repatriation of Haitian refugees’¦My job is to create a useful legacy.”
4. Isadora Duncan
Angela Isadora Duncan, better known as Isadora Duncan, was born to Joseph Charles Duncan and Mary Isadora Gray in San Francisco, California, USA, and died in Nice, France on September 14, 1927 at the age of 50 years. Duncan was inspired by the ancient Greece dancing and amalgamated it with the American love for freedom. She wrote about the American dancers in her biography, ‘Let them come forth with great strides, leaps and bounds with lifted forehead and far-spread arms to dance.’ She was inducted into the National Museum of Dance Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney’s Hall of Fame in 1987. According to The New York Times ‘Miss Duncan was hurled in an extraordinary manner from an open automobile in which she was riding and instantly killed by the force of her fall to the stone pavement.”
5. Martha Graham
Martha Graham was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA on May 11, 1894 and died in New York City on April 1, 1991 at the age of 96 years. She influenced modern dance greatly. It is noteworthy that she danced for 70 years. Graham was the first-ever choreographer to dance at the White House and to be nominated as cultural ambassador. She received the highest number of civilian awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Key to the City of Paris, and Japan’s Imperial Order of the Precious Crown. In the 1994 documentary; The Dancer Revealed, she said ‘I have spent all my life with dance and being a dancer. It’s permitting life to use you in a very intense way. Sometimes it is not pleasant. Sometimes it is fearful. But nevertheless it is inevitable.”
6. Roland Petit
Roland Petit was born in Villemomble, France on January 13, 1924 and died in Geneva, Switzerland on July 10, 2011. He was a French choreographer and dancer. He received his training at the Paris Opera Ballet School. Along with Zizi Jeanmarie, he founded Ballets des Champs-Elysees in 1945. He authored more than 50 creations in different genres and choreographed for numerous dancers. Le jeune homme et la mort; The Young Man and Death is considered his greatest work. He performed for the most famous theaters of France, Italy, Germany, Cuba, Britain, and Canada.
7. Pina Bausch
Philippina Bausch, better known as Pina Bausch, was born in Sollingen, Germany on July 27, 1940 and died in Wuppertal, North Rhine Westphalia, Germany on June 30, 2009 at the age of 68 years. She was a German choreographer, performer of modern dance, a dance teacher, and ballet director. She influenced the world of dance in the 1970s by her unique style involving a blend of movements, sound, stage sets, and interaction with performers during composition. Her works were staged as highlights preceding the Olympic Games 2012 in London. She received the Laurence Olivier Award of U.K. and Kyoto Prize of Japan. She also received the prestigious Goethe Prize in 2008 in the city of Frankfurt am Main.
8. Paul Harris
Paul Harris is a renowned English dance choreographer. He is a notable dance teacher and film movement director. He is a prolific performer, and his wide range of performances include the famous laser scenes for Catherine Zeta-Jones in the movie Entrapment and the BAFTA Award-winning Bleak House. His notable works also include the wand fight sequences in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. He choreographed for many famous British television dramas like Jane Eyre, The Way We Live Now and A Touch of Frost. He has authored Salsa and Merengue-The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. He has also written many dance syllabi for dance teaching academia.
9. Suzushi Hanayagi
Suzushi Hanayagi was born in Osaka, Japan in 1928 and died in 2010. She was a famous Japanese dance choreographer. She is known for her Japanese classical dances and experimental performance art forms. She visited the USA in 1928 under a cultural exchange program. From 1984 to 1990 she choreographed for more than 15 famous projects by the stage director and designer Robert Wilson. In 1986, during an interview at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, she said, ‘When I do classical dance, I don’t want to change the movement. I don’t want to put my own expression’¦ I felt something very much like Zen meditation; I felt very pure; I didn’t feel anything about my own ego or expression.’
10. Saroj Khan
Nirmala Kishanchand Sadhu Singh Nagpal was born on November 22, 1948. She is better known as Saroj Khan after her marriage to a Muslim Sardar Roshan Khan. She is one of the most famous dance choreographers in India. She has appeared in many popular Indian television shows including programs at Star One, Sony’s Boogie Woogie TV Series and Jhalak Dikhla Ja at Sony Entertainment Television Asia. Indian living legends like Sri Devi and Madhuri Dixit danced exclusively on her choreography.
Butterflies do not learn choreography, neither do the heavyweight champions like Mohammad Ali, but both are iconic to a very delightful type of dance. A choreographer cannot create a dancer but can create a dance that brings out a hidden dancer from somebody, just like a sculptor who can expose a masterpiece hidden in a rock of marble. What is very special with the choreographers is that they create dancers from those who are not the least of them and develop master dancers from those who are only dimly talented.