Riley Watts is a dance artist, arts advisor, choreographer, and teacher in Portland, Maine. Over the last decade, Riley has traveled to more than 30 countries worldwide to teach, perform, and research, and since 2016 has been based in his home state of Maine. His iterative choreographic work focuses on the interaction of sculpture, dance and psychology, and particularly as in inquiry into embodied consciousness in movement. He is passionate about the arts ecology of Maine and New England.
Riley received his early physical training in Bangor, Maine in competitive gymnastics, followed by classical ballet at Thomas School of Dance under Ivy Forrest. He went on to study dance at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts and received a BFA in Dance from The Juilliard School (dir. Lawrence Rhodes), where he won a Princess Grace Award in 2006. Since 2010 he has worked primarily with choreographer William Forsythe and The Forsythe Company, having lived and worked in Frankfurt, Germany until the company's closure in 2015. Prior to The Forsythe Company, Riley danced for the Netherlands Dance Theater 2, Bern Ballet, and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet.
He has danced in the original casts of world premiere ballets by choreographers William Forsythe, Jiri Kylian, Alexander Ekman, Marco Goecke, Johan Inger, and Lightfoot Leon, as well as performing repertory from many prolific choreographers, including Ohad Naharin, Hans Van Manen, and Aszure Barton. He was invited to perform alongside Sylvie Guillem on her Life in Progress farewell tour, where he danced William Forsythe’s DUO2015 with Brigel Gjoka and were awarded the Positano Prize for Contemporary Dancers of the Year 2015, Italy.
Riley is frequently invited to teach masterclasses and workshops in schools, companies, and research platforms around the world, most recently as a Visiting Artist at Singapore School of the Arts, Duke University, Princeton University, Colby College, University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana, The Hartt School, Walnut Hill School for the Arts, and The Juilliard School. He has held Dance Thinking research weeks at STRUT Dance (Perth), New Dialect (Nashville), and Gibney Dance (NYC), and Bates Dance Festival (Maine). Riley also performs with Rubberlegz in William Forsythe's dance video Alignigung for Gagosian Gallery.
In addition to touring to over 30 countries around the world to perform in such theaters as Sydney Opera House, Sadler's Wells, and Brooklyn Academy of Music, Riley has performed in fine art spaces such as Philadelphia Museum of Art and Los Angeles County Museum of Art for William Forsythe, and a solo dance work in Museum of Fine Arts Boston for Reciprocity Collaborative.
As a choreographer, Riley has created solo performance work Mine Bend (Bates Dance Festival Artist-in-Residence), Veil i (Doppelganger Dance Collective), Thinking Space i (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), 2 Thinking Rooms (TempoArt Conference, Portland), Points Beginning (Bangor Ballet), and Tonight’s Pattern (Bates Dance Festival Gala). His choreographic work focuses on the embodied psychology of improvised movement in the hyper-articulate body.
From 2011-2014, he was a Dance Engaging Science Associate Researcher with Motion Bank (Frankfurt) and collaborated with neuroscientists on experiment design, motion and data capture, and public engagements in the UK, Germany, and Australia. He has co-published research on entrainment for Frontiers in Human Neuroscience with Dr. Bettina Blaesing (Bielefeld) and dance artist and theorist Elizabeth Waterhouse, and is the coauthor of a children’s book “Where’s Your Creativity?” with Dr. Aaron Rosen for Tate Publishing, London.
Riley is passionate about the arts ecology in his home state of Maine, where he sits on the Advisory Committee for the Bates Dance Festival, on the board and faculty of Bangor Ballet, and a Dance and Performance Advisor for SPACE in Portland, where he is a Curatorial Advisor for dance on film and the Moving In Space performance series.