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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 ...