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Carolyn Carlson, a woman of many faces


Carolyn Carlson, of Finnish descent, was born in California, in Oakland, at the gateway to the Pacific Ocean. She initially studied at San Francisco Ballet School and at the University of Utah, before leaving for Salt Lake City to train with Joan Woodbury, a pupil of Mary Wigman. She then discovered the work of choreographer and teacher Anna Sokolov. an encounter that brought with it the opportunity to perform her first solo.

In 1965, Carolyn Carlson moved to New York and joined the Nikolais Dance Theater, where she quickly became one of the main soloists. 


Numeridanse 1985 - Director : Louis, Murray

Choreographer(s) : Nikolaïs, Alwin (United States)

Alwin Nikolais, whom she still considers her mentor today, has had a profound influence on her concept of movement, light and music. As an artist, he instilled in her the idea of a complete performance resulting from a harmony between its different components. As a choreographer, he shared the concept of the dancing body based on four principles: time, space, form and continuity of movement. As a teacher, he imparted his love of teaching, and the conviction that creation and learning are inseparable, that you only create because you discover. 

Sanctum - Imago

Numeridanse 1964 - Director : Louis, Murray

Choreographer(s) : Nikolaïs, Alwin (United States)



In 1970, a few months after leaving Nikolais to pursue her own projects, Carolyn Carlson left for France. In 1973, after the presentation of her dance Density 21.5, Rolf Liebermann, visionary composer and artistic director of the Paris Opera, gave Carolyn Carlson the title of "star choreographer". She brought together a group of dancers who would go on to become the GRTOP, Paris Opera’s "Theatre Research Group", located in the Rotunda of the Opéra Garnier. 

From 1974 to 1980, the GRTOP was a period of incredible creativity for Carlson, allowing her to devote herself to experimental work within the Opera; work that would go on to benefit young contemporary French dance.

Slow, heavy and blue

Carolyn Carlson Company 1984

Choreographer(s) : Carlson, Carolyn (France)

From 1974 to 1980, the GRTOP was a period of incredible creativity for Carlson, allowing her to devote herself to experimental work within the Opera; work that would go on to benefit young contemporary French dance.

These years were also marked by a new important encounter, with composer René Aubry, and the beginning of a collaboration that would last almost 30 years. 


In 1980, Carolyn Carlson set off for Italy. Invited by the Teatro La Fenice in Venice, she created a new company: the Teatrodanza La Fenice. The company included in its ranks some of those who would go on to form the first generation of contemporary Italian choreographers: Caterina Sagna, Rafaella Giordano, Roberto Castello, Michele Abbondanza, Giorgio Rossi, Luisa Casiraghi...

Undici Onde

The Teatrodanza La Fenice went on to produce Undici Onde (1981), Underwood (1982) and Chalk Work (1983). The period was also marked by the increasingly close relationship between Carlson and René Aubry, her partner. They created their major collaboration, Blue Lady.

After several years away from Italy, Carolyn returned to Venice in 1999, to lead the Venice Dance Biennale, and create an Academy there.


In the early '90s, her journey brought her back to Finland, the land of her ancestors. There, she met the dancer Tero Saarinen. She created Syyskuu (1992), for the Helsinki City Theater Dance Company.

In 1993 she agreed to take the helm of Cullberg Ballet for a two-season interlude, where she introduced improvisation and created Sub Rosa. 


Carolyn Carlson Company 1992

Choreographer(s) : Carlson, Carolyn (France)


Back in Paris in 1997, she created Signes with painter Olivier Debré and René Aubry for the Paris Opera Ballet. This meeting between the choreographer and the painter gave rise to a brilliantly and unmistakeably pictorial ballet, closer to the concept of "total theatre", carried by the stars.


In 1999, with Pierre Barnier she founded the Atelier de Paris – Carolyn Carlson at the Cartoucherie. As well as her own master classes, she invited some of the world's most prestigious artists to teach, such as Susan Buirge, Meredith Monk, Lucinda Childs and Trisha Brown.

During this period, she also created the trio Tigers in the Tea House (2004), reflecting the choreographer's love of the Orient and Zen Buddhism. 

In 15 years, the energy she brought to the Atelier de Paris (now known as CDCN, directed by Anne Sauvage) gave it a driving role in the choreographic landscape of the Ile-de-France region.

Tiger in the tea house

Carolyn Carlson Company 2005 - Director : Picq, Charles

Choreographer(s) : Carlson, Carolyn (France)

In 2005, she was appointed to the management of Centre Chorégraphique National Roubaix Nord-Pas de Calais, a prolific period during which she created more than ten pieces in just nine years. It was here that she made Inanna, a deeply moving production featuring 7 women. Her arrival in Roubaix was also linked to the creation of a new company, assembled from former dancers met in Italy, performers from the former Ballet du Nord and dancers the choreographer met during her travels... Like at the GRTOP or in Venice, the company became a breeding ground for young creators, to whom the choreographer provides her encouragement and support. 

In 2008, she passed on her solo Blue Lady to two men, Tero Saarinen and Jacky Berger. In 2013, in her last year as director of the CCN in Roubaix, she danced Dialogue with Rothko.


Maison de la danse 2012 - Director : Picq, Charles

Choreographer(s) : Inanna (France)


Since 2014, it is the Carolyn Carlson Company founded with Claire de Zorzi - by her side since 2001 - that has offered the choreographer, with her extraordinary repertoire, a space for poetic creativity and freedom. Initially resident at the Théâtre National de Chaillot for two seasons, the nomadic visual artist continues to create, to teach, and to make her work travel around the world. 

In May 2021, in the midst of the COVID pandemic, she unveiled her last major piece for her Company: The Tree, a poetic reflection on humanity and nature, on the verge of disaster... After Eau, Pneuma and Now, it closes the series of pieces inspired by Gaston Bachelard.


The solo is Carolyn Carlson's preferred form of choreography. Since Density 21.5, which she created in 1973, she has continued to alternate choreography/ballet and solos for herself or for dancers who inspire her.

Arcana : Density 21.5

Carolyn Carlson Company 1975 - Director : Dumoulin, Michel

Choreographer(s) : Carlson, Carolyn (France)

For her, creating a solo is the occasion to explore a direct relationship with dance, an opportunity for introspection. It is an intimate dialogue, with no words or explanations, on a quest for the ultimate objective of movement that is pure and unique.

Her solos are the milestones, the landmarks that mark out her career as a choreographer and performer. After Density 21.5, came Blue Lady (1983), a solo dance of the ultimate freedom and artistic maturity that would become her most emblematic piece, performed around the world for ten years. Created with René Aubry after the birth of their son, the piece became a key part of her repertoire.

Blue Lady

Maison de la danse 1983 - Director : Picq, Charles

Choreographer(s) : Blue Lady (Italy)

Almost inescapably, Carolyn Carlson returned to solo, as if in search of her own essence. In her eyes, dance is the object of concrete emotional contemplation through the body. In an increasingly vocal and individualistic world, one which suffers from our inability to express our innermost humanity, dance offers visual communication through emotion, through perception, without relying on words.

Dialogue with Rothko

Maison de la danse 2018 - Director : Plasson, Fabien

Choreographer(s) : Carlson, Carolyn (France)


Carlson prefers the term ‘visual poetry’ to ‘choreography’ to describe her work. To express her poetic and spiritual approach, she uses several mediums: dance of course, but also writing, calligraphy and a lifelong passion for the visual arts and film. Often referring to herself as an "image maker", for years she has dreamt of making a silent film, punctuated only by the breath of the dancers and focused on the quest for movement that is truly unique.


Beyond her choreographic creations, Carolyn Carlson has always written poetry (in particular haikus) and drawn in ink, work that has been widely published in particular by Actes Sud. These numerous books of illustrated poetry are also deposited with the BnF, a repository that brings together thousands of documents.


It's a form of expression she has developed in recent years with Poetry Events, a series of spectacular compositions that combine dance and poetry, accompanied by a live musician, regularly shown in unexpected or unusual places such as heritage sites and museums.

Poetry Event


Maison de la danse 2013 - Director : Plasson, Fabien

Choreographer(s) : Poetry Event (France)


It is through poetry and lines that the invisible becomes visible, in contrast to the fleeting gesture of dance that the artist defines as the art of an instant in time and space. 


In 2017, the La Piscine Museum in Roubaix, France inaugurated a series of several exhibitions in France, presenting the choreographer's graphic work to the public for the first time. The success of these exhibitions and the pertinence of this artist's "self-portrait" led the Carolyn Carlson Company to devise a new exhibition, "the painted gesture", where notebooks, a series of drawings of moving scenery, and sketches of the stage are displayed.


"In my creations, dreams have always been a manifestation of my visual poetry. The gesture, the energy of movements in dance generate emotions, spiritual and imaginative perceptions.


My job as a choreographer and image maker is to share experiences that show us another way of seeing our own nature, through our own thought processes, immersing us in the mystery of ourselves…"

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