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Susan Au

(b Rogers, TX, Jan 5, 1931; d New York, Dec 1, 1989). American dancer, choreographer, and dance company director. He began to study dance at Lester Horton’s studio in Los Angeles in 1949 and went to the East Coast as a member of Horton’s dance company in 1953. After Horton’s sudden death and the company’s disbandment he joined the cast of the Broadway musical House of Flowers (1954), the first of several musicals and plays in which he appeared. In 1958 he assembled a group of dancers to perform his choreography at the 92nd Street YM-YWHA in New York City, and this group eventually grew into the company now called the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. His choreographic style combined modern dance, ballet, jazz dance, and elements of social and ethnic dance forms. Many of his works reflect the African-American experience in their themes and music; his best-known work, ...

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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 ...

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Susan Au

[Gennaro, Peter]

(b Staten Island, NY, Jan 14, 1923; d Chicago, Oct 29, 2008). American dancer, choreographer, teacher, and ballet company director. He began to study dance after meeting Robert Joffrey while on military service in Seattle, and continued this study in New York at the School of American Ballet and with the modern dancers May O’Donnell and Gertrude Shurr. He became a founding member of the faculty of Joffrey’s school, the American Dance Center, and of Joffrey’s first dance group, which later became the Joffrey Ballet. He also performed on Broadway and with New York City Opera. After retiring as a performer in 1964, he focused on the choreographic work he had begun in 1961 with the ballet Ropes, to music by Charles Ives. As chief choreographer of the Joffrey Ballet, he created ballets that celebrated the company’s youthful verve and vitality, frequently utilizing scores by American contemporary composers. Among his most popular ballets were ...

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Article

(b Omaha, NE, May 10, 1899; d Beverly Hills, CA, June 22, 1987). American dancer, singer, choreographer, and actor. He began performing at the age of seven with his sister Adele. As a duo they worked in vaudeville from 1906 to 1916 and moved to Broadway in 1917. Starring roles in The Bunch and Judy (1922) and For Goodness Sake (1923) led to Lady, be good! (1924), which marked their arrival as top Broadway stars. During the 1920s several of the Astaires’ successful shows appeared in the West End in London, where the pair enjoyed a cult-like following. After The Band Wagon (1931) Adele retired from the stage to marry an English aristocrat. Astaire appeared in Gay Divorce in New York (1932) and London (1933), before signing a contract with RKO, the smallest major film studio in Hollywood....

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Howard Rye

[Charles; the Man with the Moves]

(b Birmingham, AL, Sept 30, 1913; d Las Vegas, NV, April 19, 2003). American dancer. His parents moved to Buffalo when he was four, and he later began his professional career in the area as a singing waiter. In 1933 he met the dancer Bill (William) Porter, and the two men formed an act, the Rhythm Pals; in 1935 they went to New York, after which they toured widely until 1939, incorporating a residency at Sebastian’s New Cotton Club in Los Angeles in 1938. In 1939 Atkins returned to New York and began dancing with and choreographing for the Cotton Club Boys, appearing with them in the show The Hot Mikado. Soon afterwards he produced a show in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in which he met the singer Dotty (Dorothy) Saulter, with whom he formed a professional and personal partnership, touring with Cab Calloway. In September 1943 Atkins joined the army. On his return to civilian life he formed another partnership, Coles & Atkins, with Honi Coles (for details ...

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 ...

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Howard Rye

(b New Orleans, July 31, 1949). American singer and dancer. He majored in theater studies at Xavier University and then studied drama in Europe. On his return to New Orleans he founded the New Experience Theatre and became involved in jazz by conceiving the show One Mo’ Time, which sought to re-create an evening at the city’s Lyric Theater in 1927. The show received its première at the Toulouse Theater, where it eventually ran for six and a half years. In 1979 a One Mo’ Time company opened in New York at the Village Gate Downstairs, where the show ran for 1300 performances. A road company was formed in 1980, and troupes later toured to Britain and Australia. Bagneris himself sang and danced with each of these companies at various times. With choreography by Pepsi Bethel and music by Orange Kellin and the pianist Lars Edegran, the show featured the New Orleans Blue Serenaders, which included Walter Payton on tuba, the drummers John Robichaux and Herlin Riley, and a starring trumpeter, a role played at various times by Jabbo Smith, Bill Dillard, and Franc Williams. Among featured singers were Lillian Boutté, Sandra Reaves Phillips, and Sylvia “Kuumba” Williams. The Village Gate cast with Smith and Williams is heard on the original cast album ...

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(b St. Louis, MO, June 3, 1906; d Paris, France, April 12, 1975). American dancer and singer, naturalized French. She started out dancing on the streets of St. Louis with the Jones Family Band, a vaudeville troupe. After touring the South with the Dixie Steppers, she gained attention in the touring company of Shuffle Along (1921), the most important African American show of the decade. A member of the female dancing chorus, Baker stood out by making faces and embellishing dance moves, mixing comedy with the erotic persona of the black chorus girl. After appearing on Broadway in The Chocolate Dandies (1924) as That Comedy Chorus Girl, Baker travelled to Paris with La revue nègre (1925), a nightclub revue that introduced the new black performance styles of Broadway to French audiences. Her pas de deux “Danse Sauvage,” which she performed with her partner Joe Alex, introduced an explicit eroticism and exuberant physicality which marked Baker’s initial renown. Famously appearing at times with little more than a string of bananas around her waist, she made an impact on French popular culture that was immediate and enduring....

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 (...

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Claude Conyers

(b Cedar Grove, LA, Dec 22, 1918; d New York, April 29, 1995). American dancer, choreographer, teacher, and company director. Having begun formal dance training with Katherine Dunham in Chicago, he made his first appearance on stage in Ruth Page’s 1934 production of La Guiablesse (The Devil Woman, 1933), with Dunham in the title role. He later performed as a soloist in Dunham’s company and continued his training with Martha Graham and with various ballet teachers in New York City. Recognized as a charismatic dancer in several companies, he formed his own troupe in 1947 and toured widely with a revue entitled Tropicana (1950–55). For this show he made his first significant work, Southern Landscape (1949; music, traditional spirituals), which launched his reputation as a brilliant choreographer. In later years he choreographed more than fifty ballets, some of which, centering on social issues and experiences of African Americans, became classics of the modern dance repertory. Among them are ...

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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 ...

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Claude Conyers

[Raymond Wallace]

(b Dorchester, MA, Jan 10, 1904; d Los Angeles, Jan 15, 1987). American dancer and singer in musical theater and films. He claimed to be largely self-taught, although he did attend ballet and tap classes as a young man in Boston. In the early 1920s he began his professional career with a musical comedy repertory group and then spent some years on the vaudeville circuit. At first known as a rubber-legged, “eccentric dancer,” he eventually built a reputation as an elegant tapper, a fine mime, actor, and satirist, and a passable singer. Beginning in 1926, he appeared in more than a dozen Broadway shows. In On Your Toes (1936; music by Richard Rodgers), he danced in the famous number “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” choreographed by George Balanchine, and in Where’s Charley? (1948), also staged by Balanchine, he memorably sang and danced to Frank Loesser’s “Once in Love with Amy,” winning a Tony award for his performance. He also appeared in many Hollywood musicals, of which only one took full advantage of his many talents. That was the ...

Article

Barry Kernfeld

(b ?New York, 1923). American dancer. As a child he was influenced by Bill Robinson. By 1931 he was working in private houses in New York with Luckey Roberts and his Society Entertainers. Later he sang with Lucky Millinder’s band, was the featured dancer with Erskine Hawkins, and performed with Baby Laurence, who was another influence on his dancing. Around 1943 Briggs spent three weeks dancing for Earl Hines, whose sidemen Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker helped him to adapt his style to bop. He also developed his own version of the paddle and roll dancing technique, to which he added elements of pantomime. Briggs left Hines to work with Count Basie, then sang and danced for Charlie Barnet, with whom he recorded in 1947–9 and 1958. In 1950 he was filmed with Nat “King” Cole’s “trio” (actually a quartet at the time) and Benny Carter’s orchestra in the short ...

Article

Elizabeth Aldrich

revised by Sally Banes

(b Aberdeen, WA, Nov 25, 1936). American choreographer and dancer. She graduated from Mills College and also studied with Anna Halprin and Robert Dunn as well as at the American Dance Festival in Connecticut. She has taught at Mills College, Reed College, New York University, and other institutions. Brown was a founding member of the Judson Dance Theater and the Grand Union, and in 1970 she formed the Trisha Brown Company. Termed a “postmodern” choreographer, Brown has often rejected music entirely or given it a subordinate role in her dances. During the early 1960s she performed improvised and “task” dances, which she later varied in a series of “equipment pieces” requiring what she called “external support systems,” such as ropes, pulleys, and mountain-climbing gear. The “accumulation” and “structured” pieces of the early 1970s involved the systematic ordering of movement. In 1979 Brown began to create several large-scale dance works in collaboration with such artists as Robert Rauschenberg, Donald Judd, and Fukijo Nakaya, and with the composers Robert Ashley and Laurie Anderson; in these works she included music as a dominant element for the first time. Brown’s major choreographic works in the 1980s and 1990s were highlighted by collaborations with composers Anderson, Peter Zummo, and Richard Landry, as well as visual artists Rauschenberg, Judd, and Nancy Graves. During the 1990s she also began to work with existing musical scores, setting dances to the music of Bach, Webern, Cage, and Rameau. In ...

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Claude Conyers

[John William Sublett]

(b Louisville, KY, Feb 19, 1902; d Baldwin Hills, CA, May 18, 1986). American tap dancer and singer. Nicknamed Bubba (“brother”), he was eleven years old when he met ten-year-old Ford Lee Washington, nicknamed Buck. Both boys were musically talented, and by 1915 they were performing on vaudeville stages as Buck and Bubbles, using a variant of John’s nickname. As a song-and-dance comedy act, the duo performed together for almost fifty years. Both sang and told jokes, Buck played stride piano, and Bubbles tapped. Bubbles is also known for his portrayal of Sportin’ Life in the original production of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (1935) and for his appearances in several Hollywood films, including Varsity Show (1937; music by M.K. Jerome), Cabin in the Sky (1943; music by Vernon Duke), and A Song Is Born (1948; music by Benny Goodman and other jazz instrumentalists). Among dance historians, Bubbles is recognized as the father of “rhythm tap,” which introduced percussive heel drops, turns, and syncopations in the traditional eight-bar phrase, allowing more rhythmic freedom than earlier forms of tap, which emphasized clean phrasing and toe taps. His innovations effectively turned tap into a form of jazz dance. In ...

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John-Carlos Perea

(b Big Cove, Qualla Boundary, NC, May 13, 1918; d Big Cove, March 28, 2012). Native American elder, singer, dancer, banjoist, and teacher. A member of the Cherokee tribe, he was introduced to Cherokee music and dance as a child by his uncle Will West Long, an elder in the Big Cove community and co-author of Cherokee Dance and Drama (Berkeley, 1951, 2/1983). He taught and performed Cherokee music and dance and formed the Raven Rock Dancers in the 1980s. Calhoun is the recipient of numerous awards recognizing his work as a teacher and culture bearer including the first Sequoyah Award in 1988, the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award in 1990, and a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1992. He may be heard on such albums as Where the Ravens Roost: Cherokee Traditional Songs of Walker Calhoun (Mountain Heritage Center Recording, ...

Article

Ronald M. Radano

(née Foote)

Vernon (b Norwich, England, May 2, 1887; d Fort Benbrook, TX, February 15, 1918). Irene (b New Rochelle, NY, April 7, 1893; d Eureka Springs, AR, January 25, 1969). American ballroom and exhibition dancers. The Castles (married in 1911) began to appear as a dance team in New York clubs in 1912. They danced in the musical The Sunshine Girl (1913), gaining wide appeal partly because of the enthusiasm among the upper classes in New York for the new steps of vernacular dance. By 1914 they had become the city’s most popular social dance team, appearing in Broadway shows and silent films, and they enjoyed great success with their book Modern Dancing (1914/R 1980). The Castles owned several entertainment centers where they performed and taught social dancing; the dances that they popularized, including the Castle Walk (a variant of the one-step, danced on the toes with stiff knees), hesitation waltz, and foxtrot, merged patrician sophistication with sexual suggestiveness and lack of restraint. Their special brand of social dancing, accompanied by the syncopated rhythms of their music director, James Reese Europe, and his orchestra, helped to popularize black urban music and paved the way for the dance styles and social life of the 1920s. A film of their lives, ...

Article

Mareia Quintero Rivera

(b San Juan, PR, July 10, 1910; d Carolina, PR, July 21, 1996). American Puerto Rican composer, singer, percussionist, dancer, and drum-maker. A master of traditional bomba and plena, he was one the most prominent figures of Afro-Puerto Rican musical folklore in the 20th century. He is also known for his commitment to passing down these traditions to subsequent generations. Together with his wife, Caridad Brenes, a gifted dancer, he raised a family of skilled practitioners and maintained a lifelong practice of teaching in the community of Villa Palmeras, Santurce, the working-class area where they lived.

Cepeda was a key figure in gaining national and international recognition for Afro-Puerto Rican musical genres. In the 1940s he created an ensemble for radio performances, and he later developed a stage version of bomba, which he presented in San Juan’s major hotels. Several of his compositions were popularized by Ismael Rivera and Rafael Cortijo. Cepeda also developed ties with the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, founded in ...

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Jonas Westover

(b Santurce, PR, March 7, 1950). Puerto Rican singer, dancer, and entertainer. As a girl she honed her skills with ballet and jazz dance lessons. As a young adult she attended the Universidad de Puerto Rico and soon afterwards began to perform as a singer and to make inroads as a model and a dancer. She quickly became a major star in the Latin music world with her first album, Tú no eres hombre (1971). Within a year she was hosting her own television program, “El show de Iris Chacón,” which ran from 1972 until the mid-1980s, when she abruptly quit. As a media personality, Chacón has repeatedly found ways to market herself and keep her image and voice in the spotlight. She has appeared on film (mostly musicals), television, stage, and radio. Her radio shows, including “Iris Chacón Live” and “Caramelo y chocolate,” have run both in the United States and Puerto Rico. Her most famous song is “Spanish Rocket Ship” (...