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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 ...

Article

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 ...

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

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 ...

Article

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

Claude Conyers

(b Florence, Italy, Oct 25, 1909; d Woodstock, NY, Sept 20, 1996). American tap dancer and teacher of Italian birth. Born abroad but reared in America, he grew up in a home filled with classical music. While working as an instructor in ballroom dancing at an Arthur Murray studio, he learned a bit about tap dancing, and he decided to make dance his career. Most tap dancers at the time favored a heavy, percussive sound; Draper developed his own style, employing the lightest of taps. To broaden his range of movement, he began to study ballet in the early 1930s while continuing to perform in New York supper clubs. In 1941 he teamed up with Larry Adler, the harmonica virtuoso, and they became a world-famous duo, performing together until 1949. In the first half of their act, Adler would play pieces by Bach, Mozart, and Debussy; Draper would dance to the music of Handel, Vivaldi, and Scarlatti; the second half was devoted to jazz, Broadway show tunes, and American folk songs. Draper also appeared in two movies: ...

Article

Claude Conyers

(Mary)

(b Chicago, IL, June 22, 1912; d New York, May 21, 2006). American dancer, choreographer, author, teacher, and company director. Having studied ballet and modern dance with Chicago teachers and founded her own performing group, she became interested in ethnic dance while studying anthropology at the University of Chicago. Upon winning a research grant, she went on a field trip to the West Indies, where she documented dances of various locales. She submitted a thesis on the dances of Haiti in partial fulfillment of a master’s degree at the university but was then faced with a choice between academia and show business. She chose the latter. Tropics (1937), Primitive Rhythms (1938), and Le Jazz “Hot” (1939) were early versions of the many revues she would create with the music, song, and dance of Afro-Caribbean and African American people. She and her company came to national attention when they appeared in the Broadway musical ...

Article

Isabelle Henrion-Dourcy

(b Pa-snam dBang-ldan, 1918; d Lhasa, 1998). Tibetan gar master. He was selected at the age of nine to be a gar dancer at the court of the 13th Dalai Lama and became teacher of the troupe at 21 and director at 32, while studying literature with dGe-‘dun Chos-‘phel. He worked as a lay official (zhol-drung) in the ‘old’ (pre-communist) Tibetan government and was the first gar master to be promoted to the seventh rank of its administrative hierarchy. He developed the instrumental technique of the gar tradition. In 1982, after more than 20 years in prison, he initiated the resurrection of gar music and dances and was appointed music teacher at Tibet University (Lhasa). With bSod-nams Dar-rgyas Zhol-khang, he was regarded as an authority on various kinds of folksongs, sitting at most of the government conferences on traditional Tibetan performing arts. In 1985 and 1997...

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

Greg Downey

[Mestre João Grande; dos Santos, João Olivera]

(b Itají, Bahia, Brazil, Jan 15, 1933). Brazilian teacher and master practitioner of capoeira angola. After migrating from rural Bahia to Salvador, he learned capoeira in the Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola under the legendary mestre Vicente Ferreira Pastinha. Influenced also by such veteran practitioners as Cobrinha Verde and Barbosa, he became a widely respected capoeirista, adept at the art’s movements, songs, and instrumental music, especially that of the berimbau, a musical bow. João Grande and three other students accompanied Pastinha to Senegal for the first World Festival of Black Arts in 1966. He later joined Viva Bahia, a folk dance troupe directed by Emília Biancardi, touring Europe in 1976 and was publicly recognized as a successor by Pastinha. In 1990 he moved to New York, where he established the Capoeira Angola Center of João Grande. He has received a medal from the Brazilian ministry of sports (...

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

[Anver, Abdullah Jaffa Anver Bey]

(b Seattle, WA, Dec 24, 1930; d New York, March 25, 1988). American dancer, choreographer, teacher, and ballet company director. After early studies in ballet, he presented his first choreography in his native Seattle in 1948. He continued training in New York at the School of American Ballet, and studied modern dance with May O’Donnell and Gertrude Shurr. He performed with Roland Petit’s Ballets de Paris and O’Donnell’s modern dance company. In 1953 he established the American Ballet Center, which became the official school of his company. His first dance group, Robert Joffrey Ballet Concert, was founded in 1954; two years later he began a new company, the Robert Joffrey Ballet. With Gerald Arpino as chief choreographer, Joffrey molded the company (subsequently known as City Center Joffrey Ballet and, beginning in 1977, simply as the Joffrey Ballet) into a purveyor of dynamic, youth-oriented ballets with wide appeal. Astarte...

Article

Reg Hall

[Bill, Merry ]

(b Headington Quarry, Oxon, 1872; d after 1949). English traditional concertina player and morris dancer. Kimber’s grandfather and father were both central figures in the Headington Quarry Morris team that has danced annually at Whitsuntide since at least the mid-18th century. Kimber, who accompanied the Headington Quarry Morris team from 1888, learnt his concertina technique from his father.

It could be argued that the folkdance movement was founded on Boxing Day 1899, when Cecil Sharp saw the Headington Quarry Morris team perform. Sharp noted morris tunes from Kimber the next day and, when Mary Neil invited Kimber to London to teach the girls at the Esperance Guild, Sharp became reacquainted with him. Kimber subsequently became integral to Sharp’s didactic folkdance programme: Sharp lectured and played the piano; Kimber danced and played the concertina. They taught regularly at Chelsea Polytechnic and the Royal Academy of Music, and played several times at the Queen’s Hall and the Steinway Hall. After Sharp’s death, Kimber continued the same working relationship with Douglas Kennedy, Sharp’s successor in the English Folk Dance Society (...

Article

Michael Tenzer

(b Peliatan, ?1912; d Denpasar, Nov 18, 1996). Balinese musician. As a youth he travelled slightly south to the village of Sukawati, where he learnt the legong dance repertory from one of its primary exponents, Dewa Ketut Blacing, and then taught it to the gamelan in his own village, Peliatan, in Bali's south-central regency of Gianyar. He also worked closely with the celebrated composer Wayan Lotring. Lebah was especially renowned as a drummer for legong and for the delicate gamelan accompaniment to performances of arja theatre. In 1931 the Dutch administration in Bali sent the Peliatan gamelan group, of which he was a leading member, to perform at the Exposition Coloniale Internationale in Paris. Throughout the 1930s Lebah was a principal collaborator with Colin McPhee, the composer-musicologist who lived and worked on Bali. The two thoroughly explored the musical life of the island, an experience that provided Lebah with unusually extensive first-hand knowledge. He travelled abroad again in ...

Article

Claude Conyers

(b Philadelphia, PA, Sept 16, 1905; d Chicago, Nov 19, 1951). American ballet dancer, choreographer, teacher, and company director. She began taking ballet classes from her mother, Caroline Littlefield, at age three and continued her studies throughout her youth with prominent teachers in New York City and Paris. In the early 1920s she appeared on Broadway in five productions by Florenz Ziegfeld, after which she returned home and spent some years working with her mother at the Philadelphia Civic Opera and teaching in her school. In 1935 Caroline and Catherine founded the Littlefield Ballet, with Caroline as artistic director and Catherine as choreographer and première danseuse. After its first performances, the company’s name was changed to the Philadelphia Ballet.

With the single exception of Alexis Dolinoff, the premier danseur, the Philadelphia Ballet was composed of American dancers. Its large repertory consisted of mostly lightweight pieces choreographed by Catherine, but the company did perform the first American staging of ...

Article

Claude Conyers

[LeRoy Kerperstein ]

(b West Allis, WI, Aug 2, 1911; d Kingston, NY, Aug 30, 1982). American ballet dancer, choreographer, and teacher. Having studied at George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet, he joined the American Ballet in 1936 and then Ballet Caravan, Lincoln Kirsten’s company formed to foster American choreography. For that company he created Harlequin for President (1936; music by Scarlatti), Yankee Clipper (1937; music by Paul Bowles), Billy the Kid (1938; music by Aaron Copeland), his most successful work, and City Portrait (1939; music by Henry Brant). For Ballet Theater’s inaugural performance, he created The Great American Goof (1940; music by Henry Brant, libretto by William Saroyan), which was a dismal failure. He had better luck with Prairie and The Duke of Sacramento, or Hobo of the Hills (both, 1942; music by Norman Dello Joio), works created for his own short-lived company, Dance Players....

Article

Claude Conyers

(b Jacksonville, FL, May 26, 1914; d New York, April 27, 2009). American swing dancer, choreographer, and teacher. Reared in Harlem, he began attending dances for teenagers at the Alhambra Ballroom, where he learned the newly popular Lindy hop. Developing a passion for the dance, he practiced until he became highly proficient. In the early 1930s, he was invited to join Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, an elite performing group at the Savoy Ballroom. There he became famous for his rhythmically rich and acrobatic style of dance, launching his partners through the air at high speeds to the swinging sounds of Chick Webb, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie. His stardom at the Savoy led to an engagement at the Cotton Club in 1936, an overseas tour in 1937, a featured part in The Hot Mikado (1939) at the New York World’s Fair, and appearances in the Hollywood films ...

Article

Susan Pratt Walton

[Bu Bèi, Nyi Bèi]

(b Wonogiri, Java, 30 April 1909; d Surakarta, Java, 14 Sept 1993). Central Javanese Pesindhèn (female singer with gamelan), dancer, teacher, and batik designer. Called Jaikem as a child, she was brought by Prince Mangkunegara VII to his palace in Surakarta in about 1920 to study vocal music with Mas Ajeng Retnaningsih and dance with Radèn Ngabèi Harjosasmoyo, Radèn Ngabèi Atmosutagnyo, and Radèn Ngabèi Atmosakseno. She married Mangkunegara VII in 1926. As an employee of the palace, she was granted the name Mardusari and a series of court titles, including Ngabèi (hence her nickname, Bu Bèi) and in 1987, Tumenggung. She taught and recorded at the Konservatori Karawitan Indonesia from 1950 to 1961. In 1957 she established a music and dance school called Penyuarga (Penyuara Gamelan) with the help of two prominent musicians in Surakarta, Sutarman and Prawotosaputro. The leading singer and dancer in the Mangkunegaran palace, she was particularly acclaimed in the genres of ...

Article

Claude Conyers

(b New York, July 6, 1930). American modern dancer, choreographer, and teacher. Of Jamaican heritage, he grew up in Harlem where he learned all the popular dances of the 1940s and experienced West Indian music and dance on social occasions. Inspired by a performance of African dance by Pearl Primus, he auditioned for and won a scholarship to the New Dance Group in 1947. There he trained in modern dance, ballet, tap, and various ethnic dance traditions, and within a year he had made his professional début and had choreographed his first dance, Saturday’s Child (1948), set to the poetry of Countee Cullen. He went on to develop a diverse career as dancer and choreographer in concert dance, musical theater, television, and film.

McKayle formed his own dance group in 1951 and made three major works for it: Games (1951), performed to a capella singing and chanting by the dancers; ...