Katherine Dunham, c. 1936. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

This large-scale exhibition celebrates the contribution of immigrant and BIPOC dancers to modern dance, opening June 8, 2023 through March 16, 2024.

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center celebrates the fundamental contributions of immigrant and BIPOC dancers to the canon of modern art 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. The exhibition includes:

  • Costume items worn by Ted Shawn, José Limón, and Carmalita Maracci
  • Drawings by Miguel Covarrubias, Jerome Robbins, and Janet Collins
  • Rare photographs of Michio Ito, Si-Lan Chen, and Yeichi Nimura
  • Hours of rare dance footage depicting dance forms from the Lindy-Hop to Bharatnatyam

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.

Border Crossings is curated by Ninotchka Bennahum, Professor of Theater and Dance, and Bruce Robertson, Professor Emeritus of History of Art & Architecture, both at the University of California, Santa Barbara. 

Border Crossings is made possible through the generosity of Jody and John Arnhold|Arnhold Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, and The Jerome Robbins Foundation.

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts gratefully acknowledges the leadership support of Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman. Additional support for exhibitions has been provided by Judy R. and Alfred A. Rosenberg and the Miriam and Harold Steinberg Foundation.

About the Library for the Performing Arts

The Library for the Performing Arts is dedicated to enhancing access to its rich archives of dance, theatre, music, and recorded sound—to amplify all voices and support the creative process. As one of The New York Public Library’s renowned research centers—and one of the world’s largest collections solely focused on the performing arts—our mission is to amplify all voices and all of our holdings. At present, the collection at the Library for the Performing Arts includes upwards of eight million items, notable for their extraordinary range and diversity—from 11th-century music, to 20th-century manuscripts to contemporary hip-hop dance. The Library also is well known for documenting live theatre, dance and music and is home to the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive, which houses over 8,000 recordings of live Broadway and Off-Broadway productions.

About the Jerome Robbins Dance Division

The Jerome Robbins Dance Division of The New York Public Library is the largest and most comprehensive archive in the world devoted to the documentation of dance. Chronicling the art of dance in all its forms, the Division acts as much more than a library. We preserve the history of dance by gathering diverse written, visual, and aural resources, and work to ensure the art form’s continuity through active documentation and educational programs. Founded in 1944, the Dance Division is used regularly by choreographers, dancers, critics, historians, journalists, publicists, filmmakers, graphic artists, students, and the general public. While the Division contains more than 44,000 books about dance, these account for only a small percent of its vast holdings. Other resources available for study free of charge include papers and manuscript collections, moving image and audio recordings, clippings and program files, and original prints and designs.