MJ Harper is a Berlin-based artist working across dance, choreography, and opera. Harper trained at Miami’s New World School of the Arts, during which time the artist obtained the building blocks of classical dance techniques, musical theory, and composition. In 2010, Harper joined the Alvin Ailey II Junior Dance Company in New York, before relocating to London to become a member of Company Wayne McGregor. Since moving to Berlin in 2015, Harper has developed a deeply intuitive practice as an artist and choreographer, relying on both improvisational and scored choreographies to experiment with notions of sociality, consciousness, and storytelling.
Harper is particularly interested in how discrete elements—spoken word, performance, cinema, fashion, dance—can be entwined; what the artist has referred to as “Tanz Theatre for the algorithmic age”. Harper situates this ongoing, interdisciplinary inquiry within a broader desire to scramble and reconstruct dominant modes of cultural production. Following a similar logic on social media, Harper creates digital collages that stand in dissonant contrast to documentation of larger-scale, virtuosic choreographic performances. In doing so, Harper attempts to defy the logic of algorithms.
Influenced by expansive, cerebral notions of style, Harper has collaborated with acclaimed and genre-defying designers including Stefano Pilati and Grace Wales Bonner. For Wales Bonner’s Spring/Summer 2018 collection, Blue Duets, Harper staged choreography inspired by ideas of cruising and romanticism. In 2019, Harper was invited to participate in Wales Bonner’s exhibition “A Time for New Dreams” at the Serpentine Gallery in London. For this context, the artist devised An Exercise in Balance, a performance that alternated between immaculate, extended choreographies and shorter improvised interactions with the audience.
While in residence at Callie’s, Harper expanded the performance Arias For A New World. In February 2022, Harper presented a preview of the piece at Callie’s; Arias For A New World, Act 1, Scene 2: Making Home blended diverse forms of storytelling ranging from intimate and autofictive to highly performative. In the artist’s words, it charted a path “towards grace—with joy, in truth, for integrity, in honesty, through tears and struggle.” For the presentation, Harper collaborated with Stefano Pilati on wardrobe and design; Kenny Campbell on hair and make-up; Nhat-Vu Dang on jewelry; Albrecht Silberberger on light design; and Buraak Isseven on documentation.