Leah is recognized by her mentors and colleagues for both her resilience and exceptional work “that will enrich the field of contemporary dance.”
Leah O’Donnell is a dedicated dancer, choreographer, and teacher with a drive to make socially relevant and creatively daring dance works. Leah moved to New York City after high school, where she built a successful 14-year career as a freelance dancer. She has performed at The Metropolitan Opera and the Washington Opera, on Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show, and with musical artists such as Beyonce and The Roots.
Following an injury, Leah moved home to Michigan and enrolled at Wayne State University, where she discovered her passion for choreography; she ultimately earned her bachelor’s degree in the field with summa cum laude honors. Though it was difficult to be a nontraditional student at times, Leah excelled and her work was chosen to represent the University at the American College Dance Association’s Regional Conference. Leah has since been honored as a Maggie Allesee Choreography Award finalist and presented her work at the Detroit Institute of Art, the Detroit Dance City Festival, The Music Hall, and at festivals across the county. She has also widely contributed as an arts writer and dance teacher, most recently at the Michigan Opera’s summer workshop for teens.
Leah is now earning her MFA in dance at the University of Michigan, where her current choreographic research blends dance and theater. Leah plans to set performances within natural environments to cultivate community connection and bring attention to the importance of caring for our natural resources and one another. She is currently planning work that calls attention to the Great Lakes and soon hopes to travel to Japan to study water rituals, mindfulness, and the Japanese dance form Butoh.
Leah is recognized by her mentors and colleagues for both her resilience and exceptional work “that will enrich the field of contemporary dance.” Following her graduation, she intends to continue growing as an artist and eventually to create an artistic residency where local choreographers can create and present dance performances in collaboration with nature.
CEW+ celebrates Leah’s vision for choreography and dance and names her the Joan P. Ireland Scholar.