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Paul R. Laird

[Lichtman, Joseph ]

(b Brooklyn, NY, May 3, 1931; d Key West, FL, May 5, 1994). American dancer, choreographer, and director. Layton joined the dancing chorus of Oklahoma! in 1947, followed by appearances as a dancer in such shows as High Button Shoes (1947), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1949), Miss Liberty (1949), and Wonderful Town (1953). While in the army in the early 1950s, Layton started to choreograph and direct. He spent two years in the mid-1950s in France as a dancer and choreographer with the Ballet Ho de George Reich. Returning to the United States in 1956, Layton was a featured dancer in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s televised Cinderella (1957) and worked in summer stock. His New York choreography debut was an off-Broadway revival of On the Town (1959). Layton choreographed Once Upon a Mattress off-Broadway and then on Broadway and in London, and continued his work on Broadway with dances for ...

Article

Mary Jo Lodge

(b New York, NY, July 4, 1887; d Encino, CA Feb 29, 1944). American choreographer, director, and producer. He was a choreographer and dance director of Broadway musicals in the 1920s and 30s. He also directed several shows on Broadway before moving exclusively into choreographing early Hollywood film musicals. He began staging musical numbers on Broadway in 1926 with the musical Kitty’s Kisses. The long list of Broadway musicals he choreographed includes Good News (1927), George and Ira Gershwin’s Funny Face (1927), Sigmund Romberg’s The New Moon (1928), and The Ziegfeld Follies of 1931 and 1934. His first directing opportunity came with the stage musical Princess Charming in 1930, which, like The Ballyhoo of 1932, was one of a handful he also produced. He first worked as a dance director for film on Moonlight and Pretzels (1933), which was shot in New York. He then served as choreographer, dance director, or musical stager on a series of films for Warner Bros. and then MGM in California, most famously ...

Article

Mary Jo Lodge

(b Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec 8, 1939). American director, choreographer, and performer. Trained in classical ballet at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, Daniele became a professional dancer at age 14. She performed for several years with ballet companies in South America and Europe and came to the United States in 1964 to learn American-style jazz dance. She made her Broadway debut in the musical What Makes Sammy Run? that same year, which led to several more Broadway roles. She first assisted prominent Broadway director/choreographers Michael Bennett and Bob Fosse before taking the helm herself on numerous shows, first as a choreographer and then adding the director’s role. She choreographed major Broadway productions as The Pirates of Penzance (1981), The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1985), and Ragtime (1998), and three Woody Allen films, including Mighty Aphrodite (1995). Daniele’s first Broadway production as a director/choreographer was ...

Article

[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

Gordon Haramaki

[Enos, William Berkeley ]

(b Los Angeles, CA, Nov 29, 1895; d Palm Springs, CA, March 14, 1976). American choreographer and film director. He is best known for producing lavish musical numbers, which led to the slang term busby berkeley, for any elaborate dance number. The son of theatrical parents, Berkeley made his stage debut at age five. In 1917 he enrolled in the US Army where parade drills may have influenced his later choreography. During the 1920s he choreographed over 20 Broadway productions and in 1930 began his first Hollywood work for a series of films featuring comedian Eddie Cantor. The making of these films, in which Berkeley developed his distinctive palette of cinematic devices for choreographing and filming dance numbers—including the “parade of faces” and the famous kaleidoscopic “top shot” (which he did not originate)—occurred during a slump in audience interest with musicals. However, the stunning sequence of musical numbers he choreographed for ...

Article

Earle Hitchner

(b Chicago, IL, July 16, 1958). American Irish stepdancer, choreographer, flutist, and producer. At age 11 Flatley began stepdancing lessons at Chicago’s Dennehy School of Irish Dance. In 1975, at age 17, he became the first US competitor to win the All-World championship for Irish stepdancing. Flatley is also a three-time All-Ireland junior flute champion. He released the solo album …And Then Came Flatley (self-issued, 1981; reissued as CD entitled Michael Flatley on Son Records, 1995) and the double-CD On a Different Note (Unicorn Entertainments Inc., 2011). In 1988 he received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in recognition of his impact on Irish dance in the United States. Flatley’s biggest break and breakthrough, however, came on 30 April 1994, during the Eurovision Song Contest held in Dublin’s Point Theatre. There he and his dance partner, Jean Butler, electrified the seated audience and millions more watching on television with a seven-minute performance called ...

Article

Todd Decker

[Curran, Eugene]

(b Pittsburgh, PA, Aug 23, 1912; d Beverly Hills, CA, Feb 2, 1996). American dancer, actor, choreographer, and film director. Kelly started out in Pittsburgh, running a family-owned dance studio and performing regionally. Turning down an opportunity to join the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo touring company, he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1933 and briefly attended law school before going to New York in 1937. On Broadway, Kelly quickly went from chorus boy (Leave It to Me, 1938) to leading man (Pal Joey, 1940) and soon departed for Hollywood, making his film debut opposite Judy Garland in For Me and My Gal (1942). Under contract with MGM, Kelly first made his mark in a loan out to Columbia (Cover Girl, 1944); the innovative “Alter Ego” solo in the film initiated Kelly’s interest in both directing and integrating musical numbers into the plot. He is among very few studio-era stars to cross over into directing. Most of his director credits were shared with Stanley Donen, including ...

Article

Kelley Rourke

(b New York, NY, June 15, 1932). American director and choreographer. She began her career as a dancer and choreographer for shows on Broadway, the West End, and various opera companies. Luchino Visconti, for whom she choreographed La Traviata, encouraged her to pursue a career directing opera. She has a strong affinity for new music, particularly works of a political nature. At Netherlands Opera in 1975, she directed the first performance of Der Kaiser von Atlantis, written by Viktor Ullman at Theresienstadt. She collaborated with composer Anthony Davis and on the premieres of three of his operas: X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, Under the Double Moon, and Wakonda’s Dream. She accepted an invitation to direct the South African premiere of Porgy and Bess in 1996 only after insisting that a black conductor be engaged. Levine directed the world premieres of Bruce Saylor’s Orpheus Descending and Oliver Knussen’s ...

Article

Paul R. Laird

[Avedisian, Robert]

(b New York, NY, Dec 26, 1937). American dancer, choreographer, producer, and director. After simultaneous study at Boston University and the Boston School of Ballet, Avian appeared in a touring production of West Side Story. He met MICHAEL BENNETT during the show’s European tour; they became friends and long-time artistic and business partners. Avian was in West Side Story (1960) on Broadway, followed by Funny Girl (1964). He was assistant stage manager for I Do! I Do! (1966), then performed in Henry, Sweet Henry (1967). Avian collaborated with Bennett for two decades on a remarkable succession of shows. He was assistant choreographer to Bennett for Promises, Promises (1968), associate choreographer for Coco (1969), Company (1970), and Follies (1971), and production assistant for the play Twigs (1971), which Bennett directed. Avian served as associate choreographer for ...