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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 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

J. Ryan Bodiford

[J.Lo ]

(b Bronx, NY, July 24, 1969). American Puerto Rican actress, singer, dancer, producer, and entrepreneur. She is the highest paid Latina actress to date and has attracted similar commercial appeal as a pop, hip hop, and Latin-influenced recording artist, selling over 55 million albums in the first decade of her musical career.

The daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, Lopez participated in minor film and theater productions from an early age. Following high school, she attended numerous auditions before landing her first major gig in 1991 as a “fly girl” dancer on the sketch-comedy program In Living Color. In 1997 she gained attention with her Golden Globe-nominated performance in the film Selena. She has since starred in box office hits such as The Wedding Planner (2001), Maid in Manhattan (2002), and Monster in Law (2005).

Already an established actress, Lopez launched her singing career in ...

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

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

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 ...

Article

Claude Conyers

(b Buffalo, NY, April 8, 1943; d Tucson, AZ, July 2, 1987).

American dancer, choreographer, and musical theater director. He first appeared on stage at age two, in a dance recital in his hometown. As a youngster, he studied ballet, tap, jazz, and modern dance, appeared in summer stock, and had his first directorial experience with high school musicals. He dropped out of school in 1960 to dance the role of Baby John in a European touring production of West Side Story, with choreography by Jerome Robbins. After a year abroad, he went to New York and found work as a chorus boy in shows choreographed by Ron Field, Michael Kidd, and Peter Gennaro. All these innovative choreographers influenced Bennett’s subsequent choreographic work, which included numerous television shows and summer stock productions.

On Broadway, Bennett’s first solo assignments as choreographer were for A Joyful Noise (1966; music by Oscar Brand and Paul Nassau) and ...

Article

Claude Conyers

[Robert Louis]

(b Chicago, IL, June 23, 1927; d Washington, DC, Sept 23, 1987).

American stage, film, and television dancer, choreographer, and director. Son of a former vaudevillian, he began studying ballet, tap, and jazz dance at age nine and within a few years was appearing in local nightclubs and theaters. In 1944, at age 17, he enlisted in the US Navy and performed in its special services entertainment division. After the war, he went to New York and found work in the chorus of Call Me Mister (1948), where he met his first wife, Mary Ann Niles, with whom he formed a dance act. Their appearances in major hotels led to their being hired to appear on television variety shows and in the Broadway revue Dance Me a Song (1950), where he fell in love with Joan McCracken, one of the co-stars of the show. After divorce and remarriage, he enrolled at the American Theater Wing to continue his studies in theater arts. In ...