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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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Roger Fiske

(fl late 18th century). Irish ballet dancer and composer. He is probably the ‘Riccardo Bleck’ described as newly hired who danced at Florence in 1763. He composed a ballet in Parma in 1776 and several for Venice in 1777–8 when librettos refer to him as in the service of the Duke of Parma. He appeared again in Florence both as dancer and composer of ballets in 1779 and 1781–2. Michael Kelly met him in Naples in 1780 and said he ‘had gone abroad very young, and had become a very fine pantomime actor, and was considered the best grotesque dancer of his day’. In Naples he danced Artabanes in a ballet called Artaxerxes and Sancho Panza in one Kelly called The Achievements of Don Quixote. The articles on Kelly in the General Magazine for May and June 1788 mention his friendship with Blake, ‘a famous dancer now in London, and retired from the profession’. Blake published ...

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(b ?Paris, ?1676; d Paris, Aug 6, 1739). French dancer, choreographer, and academician. His dancing-master father, Antoine (d 20 July 1740), married Catherine Beauchamps, the sister of dancing-master Pierre Beauchamps, with whom Michel reputedly studied. Michel was also connected to [J.-B. Poquelin] Molière’s family through his wife, Marie-Nicole-Thérèse Dugast (married 7 May 1701). Michel danced at the Paris Opéra from 1690; from 1728 until his death he was a ‘compositeur des ballets’. On occasion, he choreographed or performed in ballets for the French court. Among other works, he choreographed a Ballet de la Paix (1713) for the Jesuit Collège Louis le Grand. His famous pupils included Marie-Anne Cupis de Camargo, Marie Sallé, and, allegedly, Franz Hilverding van Wewen. Noverre claims that Blondi did not teach his students to read dance notation, but as a member of the Académie Royale de Danse, Blondi signed a resolution condemning Pierre Rameau’s ...

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Gabriella Biagi Ravenni

(b Lucca, Feb 5, 1742; d after 1798). Italian librettist, dancer and choreographer. A brother of Luigi Boccherini, he made his début as a dancer in Venice in 1757, but his major successes were achieved in Vienna between 1759 and 1767 (for example, Noverre’s revived Médée et Jason) and from 1769 to 1771. He used this success to begin a career as a librettist; he was a member of the Accademia dell’Arcadia (with the name of Argindo Bolimeo) and published a collection of sonnets. His libretto Turno, re dei Rutoli, a dramma tragico (Vienna, 1767), was never set to music, but reveals a progressive approach to drama; its commendation by Calzabigi, appended to the libretto, led to contact with Salieri, who set to music most of Boccherini’s subsequent librettos. These reveal a talent for pantomime and choreography, and handle theatrical conventions with ease. From 1772 to 1775...

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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 ...

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(b c1690; bur. Cowley, Middx, Jan 21, 1773). English dancer and actress. She made her début in 1706 at Drury Lane, London, where she was a leading dancer until she retired in 1733. John Weaver chose her for major roles in his innovative ‘dramatick entertainments in dancing’: Venus in The Loves of Mars and Venus (1717), Eurydice in Orpheus and Eurydice (1718), Andromeda in Perseus and Andromeda (1728, by Weaver and Roger) and Helen of Troy in The Judgment of Paris (1733). John Thurmond gave her dancing roles in his pantomimes for Drury Lane: both Daphne and a Nymph in Apollo and Daphne (1725), a Harlequin Woman in The Escapes of Harlequin (1722), Diana in the Masque of the Deities in Harlequin Doctor Faustus (1723) and Pomona in Harlequin's Triumph (1727). Mr Isaac and Anthony L'Abbé, dancing-masters at court and in the theatre, choreographed dances for her, seven of which were published in Beauchamp-Feuillet notation (...

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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 ...

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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, ...

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Maureen Needham Costonis

[‘La Camargo’]

(b Brussels, bap. April 15, 1710; d Paris, April 28, 1770). Franco-Flemish dancer. She was engaged as first dancer at the Brussels opera house, after studying in Paris with François Prévost in about 1720. Her Paris Opéra début in Rebel’s ballet Les caractères de la danse (1726) was so sensational that Prévost jealously refused to teach her any longer, and Camargo subsequently studied with Dumoulin and Blondy; it is said that she shortened her skirts to demonstrate her mastery of rapid beating steps and jumps, modelled on those of the male dancers with whom she studied. A fierce rivalry broke out between her and Marie Sallé, which Voltaire characterized as a competition between opposing qualities of lively brilliance and expressive gracefulness. Camargo danced in 79 operas and ballets at the Paris Opéra from 1726 to 1751 (she was absent from the company, 1734–41). Known for her exquisite performance in Rameau’s ...

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Julia Sutton

(b probably Sermoneta, c1527–35; d after 1605). Italian dancing-master. He was the author of two large manuals of vital significance as sources of dance steps, types and music of the second half of the 16th century. Caroso's works include over 100 different dances by himself and others, as well as valuable rules for basic step vocabulary and etiquette. The ballettos, which form the major part of his repertory, clearly descend from the balli of 15th-century Italy, being similarly multi-partite and individually choreographed, with specially composed or adapted music. The fact that Nobiltà di dame (1600) was reprinted under a different title as late as 1630 supports other evidence that Caroso's style may have continued to hold good for Italian dance in the first third of the 17th century.

Caroso's volumes include a few simple group figure dances such as the contrapasso, but most are more elaborate social dances for a skilled amateur couple, for example the ...

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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, ...

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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....

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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” (...

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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 ...