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SPOT ON: Karine Saporta

Photo: Marc Cellier

“My work is striking visually because this is how my mind works. I see pictures before I see movements.”

By the time she turned 20, Karine Saporta (BA ’72) was already on her way to becoming one of the biggest names in French dance when her father gave her some unforgettable advice: “He told me I couldn’t have a good cultural life if I didn’t go to America,” Saporta says. “I fell in love with New York, and then Chicago.”

In 1970, Saporta discovered Columbia College during a trip to the city and enrolled to study modern dance and choreography and to experience a hands-on approach to cinema and photography, which would later inform her choreography.

“In France, the national cinema school was very theoretical,” says Saporta, who started dancing at the age of five. “[Columbia] was much more practical and interesting.” French schools focused on thinking before doing, she says, but Columbia forced you to act—sometimes before thinking—and learn from your mistakes.

After earning a degree in communication arts, Saporta returned to France and started her own modern dance company, Compagnie Karine Saporta, in the early 1980s.

Saporta’s mix of hip-hop, Indian dance, and globally infused styles is heavily influenced by her eye for photography. “My work is striking visually because this is how my mind works,” she says, calling her dancing “stroboscopic.” “I see pictures before I see movements.”

Saporta parlayed these visual skills into her own photography company, which regularly produces exhibitions. She also directs short films and has taught dance at universities throughout France.

The multitalented artist’s accomplishments caught the attention of the highly esteemed Legion of Honour, which honored Saporta as a knight, one of the top decorations in France—a call she originally thought was a joke: “I thought it was only for politicians,” she says.

Saporta remains in high demand. In 2012, the mayor of Paris commissioned her to create a new work for the opening of a bridge across the River Seine, and her troupe toured Taiwan as part of a hip-hop festival.

“My life has been ruined by this love, this passion for dance,” she says. “It’s a very, very demanding art."

—Heather Lalley