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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

(b Montpellier, Aug 19, 1742; d Tours, Feb 14, 1806). French dancer, teacher and choreographer . He danced in Lyons in 1757 under Noverre, who described his pupil as a joyful and dramatically expressive dancer. Within two years Dauberval was ballet-master for the Turin opera house. In 1761 he made a successful début at the Paris Opéra in Rameau’s Zaïs. He performed under Noverre in Stuttgart, 1762–4, appeared at the Haymarket, London, in 1764 and returned in 1766 to the Opéra, where he was appointed assistant ballet-master in 1770. He danced in many revivals of works by Lully and Rameau, and in the premières of Dauvergne’s Polyxène (1763), Louis Granier’s Théonis (1767), P.-M. Berton and J. B. de La Borde’s Adèle de Ponthieu (1772) and Gossec’s Sabinus (2nd version; 1774). From 1781 to 1783 he shared the title of ballet-master with Maximilien Gardel; he was ousted as a result of political intrigues....

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

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

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

Sibylle Dahms

(b Lyons, Sept 1732; d Berlin, Jan 5, 1820). French dancer, choreographer and teacher. He was an influential figure in the history of the ballet en action. A pupil of his father, Laurentius (1713–83), an actor and dancer at the Mannheim Hoftheater, he probably studied in Paris, and then worked as a dancing master and ballet dancer at the Mannheim court (1756–64). In about 1763 he began his career as a choreographer at the court of Hessen-Kassel, creating more than 50 ballets. A printed collection of these ballets (Recueil des Ballets de Cassel, Kassel, 1768, GB-LbI) suggests that he was familiar with the theories and practical works of Noverre. The music for most of these ballets was composed by his former Mannheim colleagues Christian Cannabich, C.J. Toeschi and Ignaz Fränzl as well as by Noverre’s collaborators at Stuttgart, F.J. Deller and Rudolph. Lauchery wrote his own music for at least two of his ballets and, as in a letter by Leopold Mozart (...

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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

Mary Skeaping

(b Naples, fl 1755–79). Italian dancer in the grotesque style, choreographer and teacher. He is important mainly for his Trattato teorico-prattico di ballo (Naples, 1779; Eng. trans., 1988). This rare work is the only one so far discovered that connects the development of the formalized theatrical dance techniques of the late 18th century with the pre-Romantic movement of the early 19th. Considerable space is given to the use of music for dancing, attention being drawn to the rules that govern both arts and to the essential concordance of dance with its music. There is emphasis on the necessity of the dancer’s knowing music and on the ill consequences of ignorance of this subject. Importance is given to the choice of dance music suitable to the type of theatre, and to the plight of the musician who does not give due thought to this problem. Technical steps, the minuet and 39 contredanses, with music and diagrams, are fully described....

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

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; ...

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 ...

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Barbara Palfy

(b Hartford, CT, Feb 9, 1910; d New York, March 29, 2000). American dancer, choreographer, and teacher. Born into a family of Russian-Jewish immigrants, she followed an older sister to dance classes at New York’s Emanuel Sisterhood Settlement House and ultimately to the Henry Street Playhouse in their Lower East Side neighborhood. There she was taught by Blanche Talmud and met Louis Horst and Martha Graham, with whose company she danced (1930–38), also assisting Horst’s choreography classes at Henry Street’s Neighborhood Playhouse. Fundamentally a modern dancer, she did study for a year at the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School.

So enamored of dance and so talented was Anna that she left formal education in her mid-teens to pursue dance and independently earn a living at it when her father’s incapacitation and early death left the family struggling. Her mother, a strong and socially engaged woman, exposed her daughters to the social consciousness movements of the day, an awareness that infiltrated most of Sokolow’s work. She also came to know and collaborate with young experimental composers like Alex North and Teo Macero, and was equally drawn to the music of serious concert composers like Berg and Scriabin....