Black and white photo of a dancer in a long sleeve shirt and long plaid skirt leaping in field.
Katherine Dunham, c. 1936.

Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center celebrates the fundamental contributions of artists of color and artists from immigrant or Indigenous communities to the history of modern dance in a new large-scale exhibition, Border Crossings: Exile and American Modern Dance, 1900–1955. Through an examination of war, exile, inequality, and injustice, the exhibition constructs a new narrative of 20th century modern dance performance with a fuller, more inclusive history focusing on the exiled and marginalized dancers that catalyzed modern dance. Using archival material from the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, the curators, Drs. Ninotchka Bennahum and Bruce Robertson, examine the crucial issues of geopolitical events and structural racism at the heart of American modern dance.

By focusing on the act of crossing borders, Border Crossings celebrates a diverse range of dance artists who contributed movement language that came out of their lived experience to become what we know as modern dance. Throughout several gallery spaces, the Library features the life and work of artists including Si-Lan Chen, Katherine Dunham, Edna Guy, Michio Ito, José Limón, Pearl Primus, Uday Shankar, Anna Sokolow, and groups like the New Dance Group and the American Negro Ballet Company.

Through photography, costumes, moving image, and archival objects pulled from the wide ranging collection of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, the exhibition tells a new narrative about the birth of modern dance in the U.S. The final room culminates with a series of interviews with contemporary choreographers like Kyle Abraham, Rachna Nivas, and Pam Tanowitz who reflect on exile and border crossings within their work.

Top Image, left to right: Jane Dudley in Song of Protest, 1937; Si-Lan Chen, Copyright Eliot Elisofon Collection; Janet Collins in Chain Gang, Photo by Walter E. Owen; and José Limón in “Revalucionario” from Danzas Mexicanas, Photo by John Lindquist, © Houghton Library, Harvard University. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.