Riley Watts is a Bangor-born dance artist now based in South Portland, Maine. With twenty-six years of ballet and contemporary dance experience in his body, Watts’s work is deeply rooted in the experience of observing states of consciousness through physicality and motion. Beginning with dance as a base of knowledge, he creates artwork using choreographic improvisation, video and digital media, sculpture, music, and live installations. In Maine, Watts has been in residence and shown work at SPACE Gallery, Bates Dance Festival, Hewnoaks Artist Colony, Sistered, and the Ellis Beauregard Foundation, and is the founder of Portland Dance Month (2018–19). He is currently being commissioned by Portland Ovations’ New Year, New Work initiative to premiere a new performance in collaboration with choreographer Heather Stewart in 2022.
Watts studied dance at the Thomas School of Dance, Walnut Hill School, and Juilliard School before moving abroad to dance with the Bern Ballet (Switzerland), Netherlands Dance Theater 2 (The Hague), and Forsythe Company (Frankfurt/Dresden). Since 2010 Watts has danced with internationally acclaimed choreographer William Forsythe, and continues to tour the world extensively to perform at such venues as the Sydney Opera House, Brooklyn Academy of Music, ICA Boston, Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, and Philadelphia Museum of Art, among many others. In 2015 Watts was invited to tour with iconic dancer Sylvie Guillem on her Life in Progress farewell tour before moving home to Maine in 2016. Watts is the recipient of a Princess Grace Award and the Leonide Massine/Positano Prize, and has received grants from the Maine Arts Commission and New England Foundation for the Arts.
In addition to performing and creating, Watts is frequently invited to teach improvisation and embodied dance thinking around the world in a variety of professional and educational settings. He has collaborated in interdisciplinary dance/neuroscience research and public speaking events, including coauthoring a case study for Frontiers in Human Neuroscience on entertainment in William Forsythe’s Duo. Watts coauthored a children’s book for Tate Publishing entitled Where’s Your Creativity? with his cousin Dr. Aaron Rosen; has music featured on Blutte, the latest album of composer/cellist Patrick Belaga for PAN Records in Berlin; and worked as a landscape gardener in Kennebunk with Snug Harbor Farm during the pandemic of 2020. As an artist living with bipolar disorder, Watts is particularly interested in the relationship between art making and mental health.