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Article

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, ...

Article

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

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

[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

Irene Alm

[Giambattista; ‘il Tasquino’]

( fl 1636–57). Italian choreographer, dancer, stage designer and impresario . He was involved with Venetian opera from its inception. Cited as ‘Veneziano Ballarino celebre’ in the libretto for Francesco Manelli’s L’Andromeda (1637), he continued to provide choreography for operas at Venice for the next seven years. Beginning in 1645, his affiliation with the travelling Febiarmonici introduced Venetian opera to other Italian cities. They produced Francesco Sacrati’s La finta pazza in Florence in 1645 and Cavalli’s La Deidamia (first performed Venice, 1644) there in 1650. In December 1652 Balbi and the Febiarmonici produced Veremonda l’Amazzone d’Aragona (?Cavalli) in Naples. Veremonda and La finta pazza, presented earlier that year, served to introduce Neapolitan audiences to the innovations of the Venetian stage machinery and dance. During Carnival 1653 Balbi created the set designs and choreography for the anonymous Le magie amorose and for Provenzale’s Il Ciro in Naples.

Balbi also played an important role in the introduction of Venetian opera to northern Europe. While in Florence in ...

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 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 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

(b Geneva, IL, June 22, 1921; d New York, Aug 25, 1980). American dancer, singer, choreographer, and musical theater director. When he was twelve years old, he began studying dance with Ernest Belcher in Los Angeles, training in ballet, acrobatics, tap, and Spanish dance. At fifteen he formed a ballroom dance act with Jeanne Tyler, a fellow student at Hollywood High School, and made his professional début. After several years of touring (1935–42) and a stint in the Coast Guard during World War II, Champion formed a new partnership with Belcher’s daughter Marjorie in 1946. The new partners would later marry and win fame as one of the most popular dancing couples of the late 1940s and 1950s.

Marge and Gower Champion played supper clubs and hotel ballrooms before moving on to Broadway musicals and television variety shows. By the early 1950s they had established a national reputation as a popular song and dance act, and Gower had gained considerable experience as a choreographer. Their successes on stage and television led them, inevitably, back to Hollywood. After appearing as “guest artists” in ...

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

Susan Au

[Mercier Philip ]

(b Centralia, WA, Apr 16, 1919; d New York, NY, July 26, 2009). American dancer, choreographer, and dance company director. He began to study dance in his native Centralia. While attending the Cornish Institute in Seattle, he met John Cage, with whom he formed a lasting and productive partnership. He also studied modern dance at Mills College and the Bennington School of the Dance, and ballet at George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet in New York. He performed as a soloist with the Martha Graham Dance Company (1939–45), where he originated the role of the Revivalist in Graham’s Appalachian Spring (1944; Aaron Copland). He first began to choreograph in 1942, and in 1944 presented his first solo concert in New York, dancing to music by Cage. In 1953 he formed the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, with Cage as music director. The two men shared an innovative mindset, which defined the company’s aesthetic mission. The Cunningham school, which trained dancers for the company, was established in ...

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

Susan Au

(George)

(b New York, Sept 18, 1905; d New York, Oct 7, 1993). American dancer, choreographer, dance company director, and writer. Born into a family of theater professionals (her uncle was film director Cecil B. De Mille), she earned a BA in English from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her ballet training began in Los Angeles and continued in England, where she danced in the companies of Marie Rambert and Antony Tudor. She toured the United States and Europe as a solo performer, and in 1939 became a charter member of Ballet Theatre (later American Ballet Theatre). Her best-known ballet, Rodeo (1942; Aaron Copland), was choreographed for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. The story of a cowgirl who learns the uses of femininity, it is still performed today. Her choreography for the musical Oklahoma! (1943; Rodgers and Hammerstein) brought her even wider fame, and its use of dance as a means of advancing the plot was hailed as a milestone in theater history. ...

Article

Rainer E. Lotz

(Winston )

(b Philadelphia, May 14, 1889; d New York, May 19, 1939). American dancer, choreographer, and impresario. He went to Ireland in 1903 as a member of a juvenile “piccaninny” group, then toured Europe with Belle Davis (1903–8); his dancing during this period may be seen in the film Die schöne Davis mit ihren drei Negern (1906). Thereafter he worked as an eccentric solo act, and from 1910 into the 1930s was featured as a step dancer in revues in London, Paris, and Berlin; he also toured South America in 1923. In 1925 he starred in La revue nègre, with music provided by Claude Hopkins’s Charleston Jazz Band. He then organized his own revue, Black People (1926), which toured Europe and North Africa with members of Sam Wooding’s band. He organized further revues in Berlin (1926) and New York (1927...

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

Susan Au

(b Brooklyn, NY, July 5, 1942). American dancer, choreographer, and ballet company director. He studied dance in New York at the School of American Ballet and the High School of Performing Arts. In 1954 he made his stage début at the age of 11 as the child prince in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, with New York City Ballet. He appeared in both the Broadway and film versions of the musical West Side Story (1958, 1961), playing the role of Baby-John in the latter. His early performing experience included modern dance, musicals, and television as well as ballet. He danced with American Ballet Theatre (1963–8, 1971–2), where he created his first ballet, Harbinger (1967; Prokofiev), followed shortly by At Midnight (1967; Mahler); both were highly praised. For his first ensemble, the American Ballet Company (1969–71), he choreographed Intermezzo No. 1 (...

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

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 ...

Article

Elizabeth Gibson and Curtis Price

[John]

(b Florence, Jan 7, 1728; d London, Jan 5, 1805). Italian dancer, choreographer and impresario. He moved to Paris and, according to Antoine de Léris (Dictionnaire portatif des théâtres, 1754), was a member of the Académie Royale de Musique company until at least 1754. His first recorded appearance in London was at Covent Garden on 17 December 1757, when he danced in the ballets The Judgement of Paris and The Sicilian Peasants. In autumn 1758 he joined the corps de ballet at the King's Theatre, dancing in operas by Cocchi and Perez, and was named director of dances for Cocchi's Ciro riconosciuto (3 February 1759). He continued as dance director as well as a performer through the 1762–3 season, providing ballets for J.C. Bach's first London opera, Orione (19 February 1763). During 1763–4 he returned to Covent Garden as director of dances and was re-engaged in ...