Born in 1955 in Johannesburg, she became one of the choreographers most committed to fighting apartheid, while striving to redefine choreography and the performing arts in her country. Taking “dance is political” as her starting-point, she makes work that surveys South Africa’s social and cultural situation: its influences, history, divides and wounds.
She first came to France in April 2000 at the invitation of La Filature, Scène Nationale de Mulhouse, with Daddy, I’ve seen this piece six times before... She won instant recognition, earning dates at the Rencontres Choreographiques Internationales de Seine-Saint-Denis, Festival Montpellier Danse and Théâtre de la Ville in Paris, followed by worldwide tours. In 2004, Robyn Orlin took part in the opening of the National Dance Centre (CND) in Pantin, and wrote a solo for Sophiatou Kossoko as part of the Le Vif du Sujet stand at the Avignon Festival. From September 2005 to late 2007, Robyn Orlin held a residency at the CND in Pantin. In 2005 she created When I take off my skin and touch the sky with my nose, only then I can see little voices amuse themselves... a piece with six South African opera singers; followed, that summer, by Hey dude... i have talent... i’m just waiting for god... a solo for the dancer-choreographer Vera Mantero. Dressed to kill... killed to dress ... for the South African Swenkas, premiered in February 2008 at the Festival Dance Umbrella in Johannesburg, then went on tour. She directed Porgy and Bess at the Opéra Comique in Paris in June 2008. Walking next to our shoes... intoxicated by strawberries and cream, we enter continents without knocking... featuring the singers of the Phuphuma Love Minus choir, premiered in February 2009 at the Dance Umbrella festival in Johannesburg, and was reprised at the Festival Banlieues Bleues. In September 2009, Robyn Orlin created a piece at the Louvre, with eight museum attendants: Babysitting Petit Louis. In 2010, she created a solo with hip-hop dancer Ibrahim Sissoko:* Call it... kissed by the sun... better still the revenge of geography and reprised Daddy...* at the Hivernales festival in Avignon and at the Grande Halle de la Villette in Paris.
She has received many titles and awards, including third prize at the Rencontres Choreographiques de l’Afrique in 1999, and the Prix Jan Fabre for the most subversive work at the Rencontres Choreographiques Internationales de Seine-Saint-Denis in 2000. She was given knighthoods in France’s National Order of Merit in 2009, and in the Order of Arts and Letters in 2015.