Sidra Bell

Dress by Rick Owens

Live from New York: Sidra Bell

In September, Sidra Bell marked a historic milestone when her new work "Suspended Animation" premiered at New York City Ballet, making her the first-ever Black woman to choreograph for the company's main stage. With electric costumes by the rising designer Christopher John Rogers, the ballet carried trademarks of her visually arresting style, performed here en pointe by a dozen dancers in one of the city's grandest theaters, a significant step forward for an art form still largely dominated by white male creators.

As a woman of color, Bell is a rarity among choreographers in two ways, and the momentousness of the occasion was not lost on her, even as she insists on placing herself within the long and under-appreciated history of Black dance creators, including Alvin Ailey and Arthur Mitchell, City Ballet's first Black dancer and the co-founder of Dance Theatre of Harlem. "It's very meaningful to think about all these pathways that I had to this moment and to carry all of my teachers and mentors in this moment, because I'm definitely a product of all of that beautiful legacy," she elaborates. "Me getting this opportunity is really more about the community and what that represents. I carry everyone in this moment and just hope that it opens up more doors and that it's less of an anomaly and more just what happens."

Even before regular live performance returned last year, Bell, who also leads her own eponymous company in New York, had a full calendar. In October 2020, her "pixelation in a wave (Within Wires)" marked her first foray with City Ballet, a dance film that debuted as part of the virtual New Works Festival. She continued to lead class regularly at universities nationwide (over Zoom), managed to arrange a few bubble residencies for some of her company's dancers in a period when any performing work was painfully hard to come by, and mentored a number of emerging choreographers through the lockdown, emphasizing the importance of supporting the next generation as a part of her own legacy alongside the creation of her own work. "I was telling the students, enjoy the human tissue, really be grateful for that feeling, because we'd not had it," she recalls of her first in-person classes last fall.

With the performing arts tenuously returning to normal, Bell has resumed her busy schedule of teaching, touring, and creating, including her company's first performances in Cincinnati last month. "There’s a lot of burgeoning stuff to be a part of and also to view," she says with excitement. As someone who finds constant inspiration in her work with the next generation of artists, every commission, every partnership, and every student offers an opportunity for revelation. "It's just the rhythm of traveling again, I missed that," she adds. "As an artist, I always feel like a wanderer and that really informs my work."

For more information, please visit Bell will be in conversation with Danse Lumière artistic director Kathryn Roszak and present a selection of her work this Friday at the Martha Graham Dance Center, New York. Read this story and many more in print by preordering our third issue here. See the full Live in New York series here.

Hair by Tina Outen at Streeters. Makeup by Andrew Colvin at Streeters. Set design by Jacob Burstein at MHS Artists. Photographer’s assistant: Kyrre Kristoffersen. Stylist’s assistant: Claire Sullivan. Hairstylist's assistant: Amesha Alston. Makeup artist's assistant: Crisdanil Hidalgo. Set designer's assistant: Casilda Garcia Lopez. Digital technician: Leslie Knott. Production by Heather Robbins at CLM.

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