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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

Claude V. Palisca

(b Rome, c1550; d Rome, March 11, 1602). Italian composer, organist, singing teacher, dancer, choreographer, administrator and diplomat. He was the composer of the first surviving play set entirely to music, the Rappresentatione di Anima, et di Corpo (Rome, 1600), the score of which is the earliest one printed with a figured bass.

Cavalieri was the son of Lavinia della Valle and Tommaso Cavalieri (1512–87), an architect and intimate friend of Michelangelo Buonarotti. His brother, Mario (d 1580), coordinated the Lenten music in the Oratorio del SS Crocifisso in S Marcello, Rome, between 1568 and 1579. He himself also participated in this Oratorio both as an organist and as a coordinator of Lenten music from 1578 until at least 1584 (the account books are missing for 1584–94); during his administration the yearly expenditure on music rose from 51 to 140 scudi....

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

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

[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

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

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

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....