Choreographer Karole Armitage's background in dance is far-reaching. Work with pop greats Michael Jackson and Madonna to top troupes such as Paris Opera Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Washington Ballet are just some of the collaborations that dot her resume.
Currently, she is choreographing the new Cirque du Soleil tent show that will premiere in April in Montreal, as well as heading her New York City-based modern company Armitage Gone! Dance.
"I'm really dedicated to the exploration of new ideas in dance, but I also have one foot in popular culture, and I use influences back and forth between both of them," Ms. Armitage says.
What inspires these ideas is just as broad.
"A lot of it really is autobiographical," she says. "It's me asking questions about the meaning of my life and what is important and what are my values and how are cultures changing and how do we adapt."
Armitage Gone! Dance will bring this diversity Saturday to the Byham Theater, Downtown, when it makes its local premiere as part of the Pittsburgh Dance Council's 2011-12 season.
In 2005, Ms. Armitage founded the group after years setting works across Europe for some of the dance world's top companies.
"I wanted to work with my own dancers and push frontiers even further than I could with big companies in Europe," says Ms. Armitage, whose own dance credits include performing with George Balanchine's Geneva Ballet and modern master Merce Cunningham Dance Company.
The product: 10 artists from across the world with movement vocabularies steeped in modern and ballet, as well as martial arts, folk dance and other styles.
"It really is a reflection of the world today, the intermixing of information and cultures," she says.
The choreography she creates for them bridges the tradition and precision of ballet and the freer flowing movement and expression of modern -- an approach that contributed to her nickname the "punk ballerina."
For Pittsburgh, Armitage Gone! will unite science with the stage in "Three Theories," a piece from 2010 that derives its steps from physics. Ms. Armitage knew for years she wanted to do a dance tied to the universe but didn't know exactly how. At a conference, she met famed physicist and author Brian Greene, who later served as her "scientific consultant."
"It took a while to find a common way of approaching it," she says. "I just finally said really we want it to be simple but really accurate."
It opens with a nod to the big bang, which "is wild unleashing of energy," Ms. Armitage says. Next, dancers pay tribute to Einstein's general theory of relativity with traditional moves that are warped, much like Einstein believed gravity warps time and space. Other sections explore quantum mechanics and string theory with choreography that pushes dancers to their physical extremes before flourishing into something more harmonious -- a reference to string theorists' argument that order emerges from disorder.
"I think it's important art really deals with history and ideas and contemporary culture," Ms. Armitage says. "It is more complicated and rich than what I would call pure entertainment."
But audiences aren't expected to bring -- or take away -- a fluency in physics.
"If nothing else, it's exciting dancing and very sensual," she says. "It's beautiful when you go to nature and watch birds flying. It has that kind of pure pleasure."
Sara Bauknecht: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published February 29, 2012 5:00 AM