about Mary Armentrout
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dance discourse project




Mary Armentrout

Artist Statement

I am an experimental choreographer, performance artist, videographer, and the director of the Mary Armentrout Dance Theater. MADT is a San Francisco-based intermedia collective creating hybrid performance works. My works problematize the lived experience of intentionality and presence, and include the audience's role as a key element of the performance equation. Influenced deeply by contemporary philosophical and socio-relational-political concerns, I make works that embody the contradictions of contemporary life, both our conflicted, fractured sense of self, and our discontinuous, technology-mediated collage sense of being-in-the-world. I ground my work in my ongoing investigations of the Feldenkrais mind-body practice, drawing on the rich ways its awareness practice embodies and problematizes issues of intentionality and presence. From the conflictions and dislocations I find there, my work spills out to build odd and compelling structures exhibiting contradictory aspects of our self-awareness and being-in-the-world.

My choreography consists of small fragments of everyday movement, words, and environments that are distilled, distorted, polished, and stripped down to reveal the layers of ambiguity, pathos, and absurdity underneath the surface. Repetitive and deconstructed gestures, utterances, and objects/pieces of the outside world are layered and allowed to build and morph, crumble and change, creating absorbing, yet unstable environments which allow some of the other truths covered over in the everyday to surface, come into focus, and, paradoxically, display their contradictions. My growing interest in how we currently navigate our many disjunctive interfaces between the 2D and the 3D worlds, while remaining firmly embedded in our 3D bodies, leads me to incorporate video in non-traditional ways in my work, including site-specific, go-pro and timelapse. My lifelong awareness that all theatrical events are site-specific, even when in proscenium spaces, draws me to use proscenium spaces differently and lean into site-specific and installation tactics, which in turn daylights interesting aspects of the boundaries of the role of the audience in live performance. Site specific performance pulls an audience out of their invisible-ness in the stillness and darkness of the black box theater experience, by asking them to move through space and change their bodies in relation to the performance, which returns their own sense of their embodiment to them whilst taking part in a live performance situation, adding another complex embodiment layer to the mix of live performance. My works are puzzles, designed to imperfectly capture fragments of presence-in-performance and human intentionality.

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I call my genre-mixing works performance installations, and often work in an extremely site-specific way. Drawing both raves and interested puzzlement from the critics - "a performance artist of tremendous range" (Dance View Times), "a quirky idiosyncratic choreographer who assembles works that appear illogical on the surface, but somehow her twisted humor, comic timing, and odd use of furniture and bodies coalesce into meaningful dance" (The East Bay Monthly) - I am engaged in "inventing a new kind of dance theater right before our eyes" (Dance View Times). Recent awards include an Isadora Duncan Dance Award, and an artist commission from EMPAC (the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.

I received my BA from Sarah Lawrence College, concentrating particularly on dance and philosophy. After years of making and performing work on the East and West Coasts and in Europe, I formed the Mary Armentrout Dance Theater in the Bay Area in 2000, and have created over 12 full length pieces, in addition to numerous shorter video, site specific, and dance works since then. The company is, as it has been since its inception, a fluid blend of dancers, actors, and sound and media artists. I also maintain on-going collaborative relationships with sound artists Pamela Z, Evelyn Ficarra, and Merlin Coleman, media artist Ian Winters and sculpture/installation artist Elizabeth Harvey.

I install work in both conventional and site-specific venues, and the Mary Armentrout Dance Theater has been presented at numerous venues all over the San Francisco Bay Area, including ODC Theater, Z Space, Counterpulse, The LAB, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, as well as in less proscenium-oriented spaces including a bathroom, beaches, roofs, a dovecote, a dry stream bed, and a car. My first full length site specific performance installation, the woman invisible to herself, created at my home studio, the Milkbar at the Sunshine Biscuit Factory, was nominated for an Isadora Duncan Dance Award for choreography. The next one, reveries and elegies, received an Isadora Duncan Dance Award and toured to Louisiana State University, the University of Roehampton UK, the Brighton Fringe Festival and the San Francisco International Arts Festival. Most recently, listening creates an opening, commissioned by the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) at RPI, also toured to ODC Theater in San Francisco, and Sarah Lawrence College.

My work has also been presented at Movement Research at the Judson Church and Danspace Project in New York City, Highways in Los Angeles, the Dance Place in Washington D.C., le Centre Americain in Paris, and Tanzfabrik in Berlin, as well as in festivals including the San Francisco International Arts Festival, the SFFringe, the Brighton Fringe, the Walking Distance Dance Festival, the Too Much Festival, the DUMBO (NY) Dance Festival, Dadafest, the Tenderloin "Festival In The Street," the Retail Dance Festival, the "Women on the Edge" Series, and the Hunter Mountain (NY) Performing Series. I co-curated a Movement Research (NY) Studies Project on new work from the Bay Area with Trajal Harrel, and assisted Jonah Bokaer in a "Food for Thought" project on contemporary Bay Area dance at Danspace Project.

My work has received support from the Zellerbach Family Foundation, the Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Fohr Foundation, the Clorox Company Foundation, the Lighting Artists in Dance Award, the New Stages for Dance Award, and the CA$H Grant program, and I have had residencies at the Djerassi Resident Artist Program, The LAB, The Garage, CounterPULSE, The Mall of Found, and the Chalk Hill Artist Residency. I teach on-going dance and Feldenkrais classes in the Bay Area, and have also been a visiting artist at UC Berkeley, USF, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Sarah Lawrence College, Stanford University, Mills College, Cal State East Bay (Hayward), Louisiana State University, the University of Sussex (UK), the University of Roehampton (UK), Beijing Normal University, and Daijin Sports University. I am the organizer of the Dance Discourse Project, an on-going series of artist-curated discussions on the Bay Area dance scene, co-presented by Dancers' Group and CounterPULSE, and I co-curate the mixed performance salon "The Milk Bar" at The Bridge Art Space in Richmond, along with Merlin Coleman and Ian Winters. I sit on the board of Dancers' Group, considered the most important dance service organization in the Bay Area, and am a certified Feldenkrais Practitioner.

read Mary’s life story….