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[Gyorgy Melitonovich ]

(b St. Petersburg, Russia, Jan 22, 1904; d New York, NY, April 30, 1983). Dancer, choreographer, teacher, and ballet company director of Russian birth, active in the United States. He was trained at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg, where he created his first choreography. He also studied piano and music theory at the Petrograd Conservatory of Music, gaining a firm musical foundation. After graduating in 1921, he danced in the ballet company of the State Theater of Opera and Ballet, and choreographed for his own ensemble, the Young Ballet. In 1924 he left Russia for western Europe, where he joined Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. After the company disbanded following Diaghilev’s death in 1929, he worked in Europe until 1933, when he came to the United States at the invitation of Lincoln Kirstein. The two founded the School of American Ballet in New York in 1934, and together formed four successive companies with the dancers trained there: the American Ballet (...

Article

Norton Owen

[Edwin Myers ]

(b Kansas City, MO, Oct 21, 1891; d Orlando, FL, Jan 9, 1972). American dancer, choreographer, teacher, writer and impresario. He is regarded as the father of modern dance in America. While studying to become a minister at age 19, Shawn was paralyzed by a bout of diphtheria, and dance was prescribed as physical therapy. He first trained in ballet and achieved some success presenting exhibition ballroom dances, but his artistic life truly began in 1914 when he first performed with Ruth St. Denis, whom he married that same year. During the next fifteen years, the activities of their Denishawn Company and School made history and spawned a new generation of modern dancers. Shawn was instrumental in shaping the early careers of Martha Graham, Charles Weidman, Doris Humphrey and Jack Cole.

Shawn and St. Denis separated in 1930 and dissolved Denishawn. With the subsequent purchase of a rundown Massachusetts farm known as Jacob’s Pillow, Shawn laid the groundwork both for his revolutionary company of men dancers and for America’s oldest dance festival. Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers toured from ...

Article

Earle Hitchner

(b Brooklyn, NY, May 6, 1953). American traditional Irish stepdancer, choreographer, and teacher. He began on the fiddle but quickly discovered dance as his true calling. He studied for three years with Jerry Mulvihill in the Bronx and then took lessons for nine years with Jimmy Erwin in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. In 1970 Golden won the North American Irish Dance Championships, finished third in the all-Ireland championships, and placed second in the Senior Men’s competition at the World Championships. His teaching career in Irish stepdancing began in 1972 when he founded the Donny Golden School of Irish Dance, which holds classes in Brooklyn and Mineola, New York. His pupils have included Jean Butler, the original co-star of Riverdance, and Winifred Horan, the founding fiddler of the band Solas. Over the years Golden has stepdanced in concerts by the Chieftains, the Green Fields of America, and Cherish the Ladies. His hard-shoe steps can be heard on such albums as Billy McComiskey’s ...

Article

Claude Conyers

American ballet dancers, teachers, choreographers, and company directors. Three of the four Christensen brothers made their careers in dance. Members of a Danish Mormon family that had settled in America, they were taught folk and social dancing by their father and grandfather and trained in ballet by various teachers. All three were instrumental in establishing and popularizing ballet in the western United States.

Willam Farr Christensen (b Brigham City, UT, Aug 27, 1902; d Salt Lake City, Oct 14, 2001) was the eldest of the brothers. After touring the vaudeville circuit, he opened a ballet school in 1932 in Portland, Oregon, from which sprang the Portland Ballet. In 1937 he joined the San Francisco Opera Ballet, where, as ballet-master, he staged the first full-length American productions of Coppélia (1939), Swan Lake (1940), and The Nutcracker (1944). Returning to Utah in 1951, he taught ballet at the state university and founded a performing group that eventually became known as Ballet West....

Article

Elizabeth Aldrich

(b Hoosick Falls, NY, Sept 25, 1905; d Arlington, VA, June 9, 1977). American dancer, choreographer, and teacher. After ballet studies in New York City, Hoctor made her Broadway debut in the chorus of Jerome Kern’s musical Sally in 1920. In 1922 she joined the Keith-Orpheum Circuit as a solo ballet dancer. The next year she appeared in Vivian and Rosetta Duncan’s (known as the Duncan Sisters) Topsy and Eva, a musical comedy adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The show toured the United States and opened on Broadway in 1924. In 1927 Hoctor starred in the Broadway revue A La Carte, and critics noted that she was the only member of the cast who “is certain to be pleasantly remembered.” Having caught the eye of producer Florenz Ziegfeld, she danced in his sumptuous Broadway production of The Three Musketeers, which opened in 1928, and in 1929 she appeared in ...

Article

Barbara Palfy

(b Oak Park, IL, Oct 17, 1895; d New York, Dec 29, 1958). American dancer, choreographer, teacher, and pioneer in modern dance. Descendents of Pilgrim stock in New England, her well-educated parents moved to the Midwest for better income, first to Chicago and then the suburb of Oak Park. Trained first by the highly regarded dance educator of the time, Mary Wood Hinman, and various itinerant ballet instructors, Humphrey showed early talent and, finishing high school, launched into a cross-country performing tour; there being little other work in dance for a proper young woman, she taught dance classes at home for children and adults, and for actors at a summer theater camp in New England, where she first encountered the music of Edward MacDowell. World War I preserved this status quo until she was finally able to break away in 1920 to join the Denishawn school and company in California, where she was not only a principal dancer but also choreographed many solos and small group works....

Article

Barbara Palfy

(b Hartford, CT, Feb 9, 1910; d New York, March 29, 2000). American dancer, choreographer, and teacher. Born into a family of Russian-Jewish immigrants, she followed an older sister to dance classes at New York’s Emanuel Sisterhood Settlement House and ultimately to the Henry Street Playhouse in their Lower East Side neighborhood. There she was taught by Blanche Talmud and met Louis Horst and Martha Graham, with whose company she danced (1930–38), also assisting Horst’s choreography classes at Henry Street’s Neighborhood Playhouse. Fundamentally a modern dancer, she did study for a year at the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School.

So enamored of dance and so talented was Anna that she left formal education in her mid-teens to pursue dance and independently earn a living at it when her father’s incapacitation and early death left the family struggling. Her mother, a strong and socially engaged woman, exposed her daughters to the social consciousness movements of the day, an awareness that infiltrated most of Sokolow’s work. She also came to know and collaborate with young experimental composers like Alex North and Teo Macero, and was equally drawn to the music of serious concert composers like Berg and Scriabin....

Article

Barbara Palfy

(b New York, NY, April 23, 1903; d New York, NY, Aug 4, 1966). American dancer, choreographer, teacher, theater director, and organizer. The daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants living frugally on the Lower East Side, she so often danced on the streets that the family enrolled her in the famous children’s dance classes given by Irene Lewisohn and Blanche Talmud at the Henry Street Settlement House. Smitten with dance and showing talent, she did complete high school but when still a teenager auditioned for and was accepted into the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, where she was trained in classical technique and appeared for four seasons.

Not only a fine dancer but a beauty, she was taken into the Bracale Opera Company for its 1920 South American tour, during which an admirer called her Tamiris, exotic and ruthless Persian queen of poetry, the name she adopted professionally. More ballet training followed, in Russian technique with Michel Fokine in New York, until she saw a concert by Isadora Duncan and was moved to study “natural” dancing....

Article

Barbara Palfy

(b Lincoln, NE, July 22, 1901; d New York, July 15, 1975). American dancer, choreographer, and teacher. Weidman studied dance as a youth locally and then with former Ballets Russes dancer Theodore Kosloff, going on to Denishawn in California to finish his training and to perform with the company for six years. In 1928 a number of the dancers rebelled against the exotica they were performing and left to find new ways of moving, becoming the pioneers of what would be called modern dance. With fellow dancer Doris Humphrey the Humphrey-Weidman Company was formed in New York, lasting until 1945 as a major troupe of the era.

While the innovative movement vocabulary they presented was primarily Humphrey’s contribution, Weidman developed an approach to dancemaking that he called “kinetic pantomime”: starting with an everyday gesture and letting it spool out improvisationally. Always an arresting presence on the stage, he created solos and group works that were full of characterization. His sensibilities were attuned to all shades of life, expressed in works that could be scathing as in his statement against bigotry in ...

Article

Claude Conyers

[Dorothea Moses]

(b Atlanta, GA, April 22, 1904; d Atlanta, GA, Nov 17, 1986). American ballet dancer, choreographer, teacher, and company director. Having suffered osteomylitis in early childhood, she was given ballet lessons to restore her strength. They not only did that but set her on course for her life’s work. Dismayed by the lack of training and performing opportunities for ballet dancers in Atlanta, she vowed to create them if she could. After continued study with teachers in Atlanta and New York, she opened her own studio in Atlanta in 1921 and originated a dance enrichment program in Atlanta public schools in 1927. Two years later she founded the Dorothy Alexander Dance Concert Group and began to present public programs with her pupils. This group eventually became the Atlanta Ballet, the nation’s oldest regional company. From its inception until the mid-1950s, “Miss Dorothy” created some eighty ballets for the company, including lyrical works for adult audiences as well as story ballets for children. Although she usually worked to the music of popular European composers, she sometimes commissioned works from local composers. Notable are ...