Environmental Choreography

by Bram
(Jogja, Indonesia)

What is environmental choreography? Does it relate to local people's culture, tradition, and values? Who's the pioneer of this genre? Why is it called 'Environmental Choreography'?

Thanks FYI.

Comments for Environmental Choreography

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Jul 21, 2011
Answer from Maria
by: Maria

Dear Bram,

' Environmental choreography ' is an expression that is used to talk about choreography and dance research that are informed and determined by environmental issues. That is the main reason to call that kind choreography like that.

Environmental choreographers design experimental dances for non-traditional performing spaces, both indoors and outdoors. The creative processes usually analyze how different natural and built environments can affect the gesture, space, time, and overall structure of a dance composition, as well as the consequential modifications in the relationship and experience between performers and/or spectators.

One example of this is the work of Jennifer Monson, who has done projects like the multi-continental "Bird Brain", based on the migration pattern of ducks, geese, osprey and gray whales or a project that is focused on the extensive underground water system that serves dozens of prairie communities in Illinois.

If you understand human culture as part of the environment, you could say that yes, environmental chorography relates to local people's culture, tradition, and values. Though, the most popular understanding of the word 'environment' is related to nature (plants, animals, water, air, solar light and so on). So, the word is most commonly associated with ecological issues and the contemporary trend of being concerned about them.

As far as I know, contemporary dance history hasn't yet recorded one figure as being the pioneer of environmental choreography. Though, we could suppose that this artistic format is rooted in the post-modern dance that emerged in the 60s, when non conventional spaces started to be used as places to perform (though their concerns were not exactly 'environmental'). (Find more about the post modern dance here: contemporary dance history)

After that, the explosion of methods, subjects or approaches of contemporary dance went in every direction imagined, one of which is nowadays the one of environmental choreography. I believe though that it is not yet (in 2011) a very wide spread trend.

I hope this answers your question.

Feel welcome to come back to contemporary-dance.org to participate in any way!

Wishing you the best,


Jul 22, 2011
Experimenting or imitating?
by: Bram

Dear Maria,
Thank FYI but, when you said that Environmental Choreographers design 'experimental' dances ... can it be 'imitating' either the environment itself and or the bodily movements (for instance when a dancer imitates a movement of a bird?).

Was the multi-continental projects so called "Bird Brain" by Jennifer Monson performed by dancer/s or by the real birds (?)and gray whale, and how they were been choreographed?

Sorry for my confusion and thanks again for your answers. Oops, could you please tell me any books on Environmental Choreography?

Thanks so much indeed.


Jul 22, 2011
Answer 2, from Maria
by: Maria

Dear Bram

When I say experimental dances it can mean both 'imitating' the environment itself or the bodily movements of animals, as you say. But those are just simple examples. When a contemporary choreographer creates a piece, s/he is not limited to imitate something. The creative strategies are unlimited and there can be any kind of choreographed actions that are in some way related to environmental issues (like facts, questions, statements, new ways of understanding and experiences).

Environmental choreography is part of the family of contemporary art, which makes its procedures wider in their conceptions, methods and results. Remember that artists are free minded, so they can choose to imitate a bird, imitate the branch in which the bird is standing, choreograph something below the branch where the bird is standing and so forth, up to whatever level of complexity you can imagine.

The project by Jennifer Monson was performed by dancers. You can find expanded information through this link (copy and paste in your browser's address bar):


Try the following texts. They might help you with your understanding or give you guidelines to continue searching:

- Performing Nature: Explorations in Ecology and the Arts, by Peter Lang, 2005.

- Body and Earth: An Experiential Guide, by professor Andrea Olsen.

You should find this one here: www.upne.com. And this is her e-mail, just in case: olsen[at]middlebury.edu

- http://www.epdvs.com/ACADEMIC/epdvs_ChoreographedEnvironments.pdf

This last link will take you to a text that is more oriented towards architecture, but it might have ideas that complement your understanding.

You've got some work know?! Great. Try those texts and let me know how you get on. I'll be waiting if you have more questions.

Best wishes,


Dec 15, 2015
Master's program
by: Ana

Dear Maria,
I am working on my masters program and have to decide on a topic for my thesis. I gravitate towards the topic on environmental choreography but I need to know if you think this is an area that is sustainable in the long run for choreography work. I did work on examining practice with this topic for practice research and put myself in 3 different environments. I have my movement studies on vimeo if you want to watch them and discuss. Still I have tons of questions...I am also interested in representing social issues and educating through movement. I hope to hear from you soon.

Dec 16, 2015
Maria's reply
by: Maria

Dear Ana,

Yes, I do think that this is an area that is sustainable in the long run for choreography work.

As with any research topic, remember that it is very important that you focus on one tiny subject. That’s a better way to get close to accurate knowledge.

We have a related chat in our forum that may be helpful for you. Please take your time to read my reply there:

How to define a question for a dance research

Warm regards,


Apr 17, 2016
by: Anonymous

Are there any examples of famous environmental choreographers?

Oct 02, 2018
Environmental choreographers
by: JamesonHH

I think that Anna Halprin needs to be included in your list along with Pina Bausch and others in your post-modern link. Environmental choreographers could be categorized as: Choreographers that utilize the outdoors, their environments, perform site-specific works, or change traditional environments into spaces that fit the needs of the choreography.

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