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Skip Cunningham

Entertainer Skip Cunningham was born on April 24, 1936 to Geneva Davis and William Henry Cunningham in Chicago, Illinois. He graduated from Morgan Park High School and attended the University of Illinois at Navy Pier, before transferring to Woodrow Wilson Junior College where he received his A.A. degree in 1956.

In 1941, at the age of five, Cunningham started tap lessons at the Sadie Bruce Dance School in Bronzeville, Chicago. Starting at the age of eight, he performed throughout the city and won several dance competitions. He visited California in 1956, where he won a talent contest that earned him a week-long engagement performing at the Moulin Rouge on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. In 1957, while still in Los Angeles, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and completed basic training at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Washington. He was stationed at Fort Gordon, Georgia and Fort Banks in Winthrop, Massachusetts, where he found a talent agent and joined the American Guild of Variety Artists. In 1959, Cunningham completed his military service in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. He returned to Chicago, where he secured a role performing in the Billy Williams Revue. Over the next two years, they toured Canada, New York, New Orleans and Las Vegas, where they established a residency for six months, before returning to New York City in 1961. Cunningham left the group and secured General Artist Corporation as his agent. During this period, he made appearances on television shows like On Broadway Tonight, The Merv Griffin Show, and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. As an entertainer, he performed with Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, Richard Pryor, and Frank Sinatra. He was also a recording artist for such labels as Kapp Records, Coral Records and Motown.

In 1968, Cunningham moved to Los Angeles, where he began performing on the cruise ship circuits and making various television and movie appearances. Cunningham was featured on episodes of Sanford and Son and The Richard Pryor Show. He also performed briefly in Eubie! on Broadway and in a production of Evolution of the Blues at the Drury Lane Theater at the Water Tower Place in Chicago in 1980. In 1984, Cunningham worked on the films, The Cotton Club and later Taps, in 1989.

Cunningham also worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District to teach performance arts and African American history. In 2002, Cunningham was cast in the David Whitfield production of Forgotten Treasures with Marla Gibbs and Lou Myers. Cunningham was then selected to perform for the 2003 Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, along with Fayard Nicholas, Arlene Kennedy and Arthur Duncan. He later taught and performed at the Herrang Dance Camp in Stockholm, Sweden and at the International Feet Beat Tap Festival in Helsinki, Finland in 2005. Cunningham appeared with Century Ballroom Presents The Masters of Lindy Hop & Tap, before retiring from the stage in 2009.

As a tap master, Cunningham was awarded the Chicago Human Rhythm Project Juba Award, Rhythm Tap Hall of Fame Master Tapper Award, and the Los Angeles Tap Festival Leonard Reed Longevity Award.

Skip Cunningham was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on February 7, 2019.

Accession Number

A2019.013

Sex

Male

Interview Date

2/7/2019

Last Name

Cunningham

Maker Category
Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Morgan Park High School

University of Illinois at Navy Pier

Kennedy–King College

First Name

Skip

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

CUN03

Favorite Season

Chicago - Four Seasons, California - All Year

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

United States

Favorite Quote

Got Dammit (When things go wrong)

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

4/24/1936

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles

Favorite Food

Steak

Short Description

Entertainer Skip Cunningham (1936 - ) toured with the Billy Williams Revue and made numerous appearances on The Merv Griffin Show and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He was featured in Eubie! on Broadway and in Evolution of the Blues.

Employment

U.S. Army

American Guild of Variety Artists

Billy Williams Revue

Genderal Artist Corporation

Los Angeles Unified School District

Favorite Color

Blue

Peter London

Dancer, choreographer and artistic director Peter London was born on May 10, 1960 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago to Dennis Bedeau Stanclaus and Belle Stanclaus. While in Trinidad and Tobago, London studied West African dance. He received a certificate in male elementary ballet from the Royal Academy of Dancing in 1982 and attended the Caribbean School of Dancing before coming to the United States and enrolling at The Julliard School in New York and earned his diploma in dance in 1987.

Before moving to the United States, London was part of the Barataria Folk Dance Group from 1976 to 1983 and joined the Astor Johnson Repertory Dance Theater of Trinidad and Tobago, where he danced as Astor Johnson’s protégé. London also was a dance teacher in Trinidad and Tobago. In 1987, London joined the Limón Dance Company, which he toured with as a principal dancer. London moved to the U.S.; and, in 1988, he was recruited to join the Martha Graham Dance Company as a principal dancer, where he performed with dancers such as Mikhail Baryshnikov and Denise Vales. After Martha Graham’s death in 1991, London took a yearlong break from dancing and began teaching at the New World School of the Arts in Miami, Florida. He was invited to tour with the Martha Graham Dance Company again by Ronald Protas in 1992, which he toured with until 1997.

London returned to the New World School of the Arts that year and served as a professor of dance at Miami Dade College. From 2007 to 2010, London taught at The Alvin Ailey School in New York. In 2011, London received a grant of $120,000 from the Knight Foundation in order to form the Peter London Global Dance Company. London showcased pieces that featured Afro-Caribbean dance, as well as Haitian and Afro-Cuban music. London also served as a mentor to; Jamar Roberts of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Lloyd Knight of the Martha Graham Dance Company, and Robert Battle, artistic director at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Peter London was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 7, 2017.

Accession Number

A2017.038

Sex

Male

Interview Date

03/07/2017

Last Name

London

Maker Category
Organizations
Schools

Piccadilly Government Primary School

Barataria Junior Seconday School

South East Port of Spain Government Seconday School

The Juilliard School

Miami Dade College

First Name

Peter

Birth City, State, Country

Port of Spain

HM ID

LON04

Favorite Season

Christmas

Favorite Vacation Destination

Barbados

Favorite Quote

Can't is not in the dictionary.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Florida

Birth Date

5/10/1960

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Miami

Country

Trinidad & Tobago

Favorite Food

Salt Fish, Cassava, Black Eyed Peas and Rice

Short Description

Dancer, choreographer and artistic director Peter London (1960 - ) was a member of the Martha Graham Dance Company and became founder and artistic director of the Peter London Global Dance Company.

Employment

Miami Dade College

Martha Graham Dance Company

Jose Limon Dance

Shell Chemicals

Favorite Color

Blue

Gus Solomons jr

Dancer and choreographer Gus Solomons jr was born on August 27, 1938 in Cambridge, Massachusetts to Olivia Stead Solomons and Gustave Solomons, Sr. He attended Cambridge High and Latin School before enrolling at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1956, where he studied architecture. During this time, he began studying dance as a student of Jan Veen and Robert C. Gilman at the Boston Conservatory of Music.

Upon graduation, Solomons moved to New York City to dance in Oscar Brown, Jr.’s musical Kicks and Company, with choreographer Donald McKayle. Solomons joined McKayle’s company shortly after, and began taking classes at the Martha Graham School. Solomons’ interest in postmodernism developed further at Studio 9, where he shared space with other modern dance colleagues and worked with avant-garde experimentalists, some of whom went on to form the Judson Dance Theater collective. While at Studio 9, Solomons caught the attention of Martha Graham’s student Pearl Lang, who cast him in Shira in 1962. In 1965, postmodern choreographer Merce Cunningham asked Solomons to join his company. There, Solomons created roles in How to Pass Kick Fall and Run, RainForest, Place, Walkaround Time, and partnered with Sandra Neels in Scramble. In 1968, Solomons left Cunningham’s company after sustaining a back injury. He then collaborated with writer Mary Feldhaus-Weber and composer John Morris on a dual-screen video-dance piece entitled CITY/MOTION/SPACE/GAME at WGBH-TV in Boston, produced by Rick Hauser. Solomons went on to found his own company, The Solomons Company/Dance, creating over 165 original pieces. He became known for his analytical approach and incorporation of architectural concepts as well as his exploration of interactive video, sound, and movement, as depicted in the piece CON/Text. In 1980, Solomons began writing dance reviews, which were published in The Village Voice, Attitude, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. In 1996, he founded PARADIGM with Carmen de Lavallade and Dudley Williams. Solomons also worked as an arts professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts until 2013.

In 2004, Solomons was named the American Dance Festival’s Balasaraswati/Joy Ann Dewey Beinecke Endowed Chair for Distinguished Teaching. He received the first annual Robert A. Muh Award from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and served as a Phi Beta Kappa Scholar in 2006.

Gus Solomons jr was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 7, 2016.

Accession Number

A2016.054

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/7/2016

Last Name

Solomons

Maker Category
Marital Status

Single

Occupation
Schools

Kennedy-Longfellow School

Boston Conservatory at Berklee

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cambridge Rindge and Latin School

First Name

Gus

Birth City, State, Country

Boston

HM ID

SOL02

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Massachusetts

Favorite Vacation Destination

Wherever I Have Work

Favorite Quote

Dance Like No One's Watching.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

8/27/1938

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

Dancer and choreographer Gus Solomons jr. (1938 - ) created over 165 dance pieces for his two companies, The Solomons Company/Dance and PARADIGM. He was known for his analytical approach, architectural concepts, and use of video and other forms of media.

Employment

Donald McKayle and Company

The Joffrey School

Barbara Dona and Associates

Studio 9

Jacob's Pillow

Barbara Dorn Associates

Dance Circle

Merce Cunningham Dance Company

Martha Graham Dance Company

Solomons Company Dance

Glimmerglass Playhouse and the Canadian Opera

PARADIGM Dance Company

Complexions

Favorite Color

Orange, Purple

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Gus Solomons jr's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Gus Solomons jr lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Gus Solomons jr describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Gus Solomons jr describes his father's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Gus Solomons jr remembers his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Gus Solomons jr describes his neighborhood in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Gus Solomons jr talks about the lack of racial diversity in his neighborhood

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Gus Solomons jr describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Gus Solomons jr describes his father's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Gus Solomons jr recalls his early exposure to music and performance

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Gus Solomons jr remembers the start of his career in performance

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Gus Solomons jr describes his early academic success

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Gus Solomons jr talks about his attitude towards racial discrimination

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Gus Solomons jr recalls his decision to study architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Gus Solomons jr remembers studying dance at the Boston Conservatory of Music

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Gus Solomons jr describes the start of his dance career in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Gus Solomons jr describes his position at Barbara Dorn and Associates

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Gus Solomons jr remembers performing in 'Kicks and Company'

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Gus Solomons jr recalls joining the companies of Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Gus Solomons jr talks about the techniques of Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Gus Solomons jr remembers performing with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Gus Solomons jr describes the formation of Solomons Company Dance

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Gus Solomons jr describes his creative process for choreography

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Gus Solomons jr talks about the theories of choreographic composition

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Gus Solomons jr recalls the funding for Solomons Company Dance

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Gus Solomons jr remembers the dancers in Solomons Company Dance

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Gus Solomons jr describes the rehearsal space for Solomons Company Dance

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Gus Solomons jr remembers touring with the National Endowment for the Arts

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Gus Solomons jr describes 'City Motion Space Game,' pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Gus Solomons jr describes 'City Motion Space Game,' pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Gus Solomons jr talks about the dance installations 'Red Squalls' and 'Red Squalls II'

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Gus Solomons jr talks about his work as a dance critic

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Gus Solomons jr talks about his committee service

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Gus Solomons jr talks about his experiences of clinical depression, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Gus Solomons jr talks about the Paradigm Dance Company

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Gus Solomons jr talks about the loss of his family

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Gus Solomons jr describes the live video dance 'CON/Text'

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Gus Solomons jr talks about his collaborations with Jason Akira Somma

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Gus Solomons jr talks about his depression's influence upon his work

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Gus Solomons jr describes the Paradigm Dance Company

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Gus Solomons jr talks about his experiences of dancing at an older age

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Gus Solomons jr describes his involvement with the It Gets Better Project

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Gus Solomons jr talks about his involvement in the piece 'Monument 0.1'

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Gus Solomons jr reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Gus Solomons jr shares his advice to aspiring dancers

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Gus Solomons jr reflects upon the state of diversity in dance

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Gus Solomons jr reflects upon his life

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

4$2

DATitle
Gus Solomons jr remembers studying dance at the Boston Conservatory of Music
Gus Solomons jr talks about the dance installations 'Red Squalls' and 'Red Squalls II'
Transcript
When did you perform in your first professional show?$$(Makes sound) I guess, I would say the Dancemakers. That was a company that I joined in 1958 maybe. It was Boston's first professional modern dance company. And, it was started by Martha Baird who lived out in Newton [Massachusetts] or somewhere. And, there was no modern dance company so that was, that was what I would call my first professional performing.$$And, when you were taking dance classes leading up to that, did you take traditional ballet and all of the--?$$Yes, when I went to the Boston Conservatory [Boston Conservatory of Music; Boston Conservatory at Berklee, Boston, Massachusetts]. See, in my first year at Tech [Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts], I went out to audition for the show, the original musical. And, they said, "Wow, you can dance. Can you choreograph?" And, I said, "Oh, you mean make up dances? Yeah, I can do that." So, I was the lead in the show and choreographed it.$$What show is this now?$$It was called MI- the 'Tech Show.' It was an original--and the first one was called "Djinn and Bitters" [Harold Lawler]. And, I played the genie. But, when I--they said, "Can you choreograph?" I thought, well, maybe I should go and see what that's about. So, I went across the river [Charles River] to the Boston Conservatory and enrolled in a modern dance class, which was taught by Jan Veen, who was a German Viennese who had studied with Laban [Rudolf von Laban] and he taught us the Laban scales. Now, in the, in his system of teaching, making dance and technique and improvisation were all one. There were no categories, no sharp divisions. So, that was a wonderful way to learn to dance. And, then, they kept offering me more and more classes because men were scarce in dance in Boston [Massachusetts] at that time. And, then I started taking ballet classes with Rue Santon [ph.], and--Cecchetti technique, and jazz with Bob Gilman [Robert C. Gilman]. That was kind of Broadway jazz.$$And, this was all at the conservatory?$$Correct.$$So, you were taking, the entire time that you were in college you were also taking dance classes--$$Yes.$$--across the water?$$Yeah, (makes sound). Yes. Yes. As a matter of fact at one point in my senior year, or my, yeah, either the fourth or fifth year, I went up for jury with our projects. That week, the last week before the project, I had slept six hours in total that week, because I would sleep two hours before each performance. I was performing in an opera in Boston, 'Traviata' ['La Traviata,' Giuseppe Verdi] I think. And, when I got up to present my work one of my professors said, "Gus [HistoryMaker Gus Solomons jr], would you tell us how you managed to do a full time architecture course at MIT and still have time to be dancing professionally in the opera?" I thought, oops, busted (laughter).$$Right, right, right.$$But, yeah, I mean, 'cause when you're that age you don't need sleep. You just need more pasta and coffee. But, that--$$So, you knew, that you were gonna be a dancer?$$I did (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Some- in one way or another.$$I knew I wanted to do some kind of performing. And, I remember actually going to one of my professors, Richard Phillapolski [ph.], and saying, "You know, I really, I'm not sure I wanna finish that extra sixth year because I really wanna be a dancer." And, he said, "Oh, no, you will be a credit to your race if you become an architect." He--those were his words (laughter). And, I thought, okay, whatever. And, then when I graduated, I graduated in May--oh, and they gave me an award at MIT, a (unclear) or something, in recognition of my service as a performer in the 'Tech' shows, because I did 'Tech Show' every year when I was there.$Moving forward in time, what's another highlight?$$Another highlight, let's see. There were, I think the collaborations stand out for me with Toby Twining doing the music and Scott De Vere doing the installation in that company, especially--and, that was starting in '88 [1988] 'til '93 [1993] and culminating in a big site specific piece ['Red Squalls,' Gus Solomons jr] at Lincoln Center [Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York, New York] in '93 [1993] on the North Plaza where the pool is. And, we took up that whole space with six dancers and twelve (pause) dancers, prop movers, chorus. An installation was a 150 foot long fabric wall that had, you know, posts each twelve feet. And, that could isolate the dancers or it could have its own dancers, become a solid if you zigzagged it from a cube. Or, it could become a streamer or it could be, if you twisted the opposite, via every other post it became a, like a bowtie arrangement. And, then the dancers would move around the plaza in relationship to this wall. That was the first time. The second time, we did it again in 1997 ['Red Squalls II,' Gus Solomons jr]. And, that time I collaborated with Walter Thompson whom I begun working with who did instrumental music. But, with a kind of a language that he had devised of directing improvisation by musicians. And, the musicians then were part of the spectacle because they marched around and they moved and they were in separate locations and so forth and he could conduct them all. And, this time also, there was a fabric designer [Stephanie Siepmann] who made the costumes. And, the costumes were three dimensional fabrics that she had invented essentially. So, the dancers were in these wonderful constructions in addition to moving.$$So, when you did these pieces on the plaza, did you also film them?$$Yes. Not, very comprehensively. But, there are bits and pieces of film that exist in the New York Public Library performing arts collection [New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, New York, New York].

Arthur Mitchell

Dancer, choreographer and artistic director Arthur Mitchell was born on March 27, 1934 in Harlem, New York to Arthur Mitchell, Sr. and Willie Hearns Mitchell. He attended the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan. In addition to academics, Mitchell was a member of the New Dance Group, the Choreographers Workshop, Donald McKayle and Company, and High School of Performing Arts’ Repertory Dance Company. After graduating from high school in 1952, Mitchell received scholarships to attend the Dunham School and the School of American Ballet.

In 1954, Mitchell danced on Broadway in House of Flowers with Geoffrey Holder, Louis Johnson, Donald McKayle, Alvin Ailey and Pearl Bailey. He joined John Butler’s dance company in Europe before Lincoln Kirstein, general director of the New York City Ballet (NYCB), invited him to join NYCB’s corps de ballet. Mitchell became the first African American permanent member of a major American ballet company in 1955, when he performed with Tanaquil Le Clercq in Western Symphony. Then, in 1957, famed ballet choreographer George Balanchine choreographed Agon pas de deux, considered to be the first interracial duet in American ballet, for Mitchell and Diana Adams. Balanchine choreographed the role of Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Mitchell, as Mitchell performed in a succession of NYCB productions, including Bugaku and Arcade, throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In 1966, Mitchell organized the American Negro Dance Company, which represented the U.S. at the first World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal. Mitchell then founded the National Ballet Company of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro in 1968. Mitchell, with mentor and friend Karel Shook, co-founded the Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1969, the first black classical ballet company, which debuted at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City in 1971. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Dance Theatre of Harlem produced ballets, including Dougla, Troy Game, The Firebird and Creole Giselle. When the Dance Theatre of Harlem performed in South Africa in 1992, it launched its international outreach program, Dancing Through Barriers, designed to educate children in dance through master classes and open rehearsals.

Mitchell received numerous awards. In 1993, he was recognized by the Kennedy Center Honors, and was named a MacArthur Genius Fellow in 1994. President Bill Clinton presented Mitchell with a U.S. National Medal of Arts in 1995. Then, in 1999, Mitchell was inducted into the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame, the only U.S. museum dedicated exclusively to dance. He received the Heinz Award in Art and Humanities in 2001, and was featured in a PBS American Masters documentary, Balanchine in 2004. Between 2009 and 2010, the exhibit “Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts” premiered in New York City and Los Angeles. Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library acquired Mitchell’s archives, its first major dance collection, in 2015.

Mitchell passed away on September 19, 2018.

Arthur Mitchell was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 6, 2016.

Accession Number

A2016.034

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/5/2016

Last Name

Mitchell

Maker Category
Marital Status

Single

Organizations
Schools

Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts

Junior High School 43

P.S. 86

School of American Ballet

First Name

Arthur

Birth City, State, Country

Harlem

HM ID

MIT14

Favorite Season

Fall

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

The Arts Ignite The Mind. They Give You The Possibility To Dream And Hope.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

3/27/1934

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Fried Chicken, Collard Greens

Death Date

9/19/2018

Short Description

Dancer, choreographer, and artistic director Arthur Mitchell (1934 - 2018 ) was a principal dancer for the New York City Ballet for fifteen years. In 1969, he co-founded the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the first African American classical ballet company and school.

Employment

Dance Theater of Harlem

New York City Ballet

Favorite Color

Black

Timing Pairs
0,0:270,7:630,12:1080,18:2700,40:3060,45:14895,215:15350,221:16078,231:16624,238:16988,243:20719,298:21265,305:22903,328:35459,484:35970,492:36335,498:37211,510:37503,515:37941,522:38233,527:40715,581:41445,593:48763,606:51181,636:53734,667:54404,699:54806,709:55476,722:56079,733:56414,739:57553,763:58826,794:61880,808:76402,936:82802,1013:88536,1082:89215,1091:92222,1134:92901,1144:103490,1226:104525,1243:105008,1252:105629,1263:105974,1269:106250,1274:106733,1285:107492,1303:107975,1312:109631,1358:114648,1397:115216,1406:116770,1421:121620,1468:123540,1502:124340,1515:125060,1525:126420,1544:127540,1573:128340,1582:129620,1598:133446,1616:149900,1833:150860,1844:151260,1850:151580,1855:155161,1867:161096,1949:161744,1958:167896,2014:171784,2082:172720,2100:183280,2238:186320,2280:187440,2296:189200,2316:189680,2327:206145,2438:206740,2447:211415,2512:212265,2529:214815,2558:220694,2585:221664,2647:225156,2710:226805,2730:230685,2819:232722,2850:233110,2855:237832,2867:239350,2900:239614,2905:240010,2913:241790,2928$0,0:1552,16:9838,151:14220,195:15494,216:17754,227:18124,236:18494,242:19530,280:20566,298:21750,324:22046,329:23082,348:27550,396:27960,402:28370,408:28944,417:29272,422:33454,507:56467,756:57463,772:57795,777:79786,1043:80482,1050:83625,1084:87075,1150:91876,1204:92320,1211:92616,1216:92986,1222:94170,1247:95724,1293:96242,1301:96760,1309:97056,1314:97500,1321:97796,1326:98980,1344:99868,1357:100386,1369:100682,1374:105196,1491:114721,1631:115135,1638:115411,1643:116032,1653:116998,1672:117274,1677:117895,1687:140197,2015:140602,2021:140926,2026:141331,2032:141817,2047:142141,2052:143194,2073:143518,2078:148670,2099:149300,2106:149720,2111:150140,2130:162340,2232:165525,2311:167800,2360:170530,2441:170985,2449:186800,2609:188396,2636:189488,2655:190580,2673:193604,2711:193940,2716:194444,2723:203459,2837:204824,2861:214484,2964:214952,2971:215264,2976:230148,3171:233592,3234:234330,3244:238594,3387:239414,3400:240234,3413:240562,3418:264624,3769:266500,3787
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Arthur Mitchell's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Arthur Mitchell lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Arthur Mitchell describes his mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Arthur Mitchell describes how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Arthur Mitchell describes his childhood in New York City's Harlem neighborhood, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Arthur Mitchell describes his childhood in New York City's Harlem neighborhood, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Arthur Mitchell describes his siblings and their children

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Arthur Mitchell describes his father's incarceration

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Arthur Mitchell describes his early activities

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Arthur Mitchell recalls his audition for the High School of Performing Arts in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Arthur Mitchell remembers the High School of Performing Arts

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Arthur Mitchell describes his experiences of racial discrimination in dance companies

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Arthur Mitchell describes his role in 'Four Saints in Three Acts'

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Arthur Mitchell remembers his decision to study with Katherine Dunham

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Arthur Mitchell describes his early interest in dance and theater

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Arthur Mitchell describes his work on 'Shinbone Alley'

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Arthur Mitchell remembers performing with Eartha Kitt

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Arthur Mitchell talks about his dance scholarships

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Arthur Mitchell describes how he decided to study ballet

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Arthur Mitchell recalls the professional dancers with whom he worked in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Arthur Mitchell describes his decision to leave Katherine Dunham School of Dance and Theatre

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Arthur Mitchell describes his involvement with New York City dance schools and productions

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Arthur Mitchell describes his body type and dance technique

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Arthur Mitchell describes his experiences of racial discrimination in ballet

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Arthur Mitchell describes the production of 'House of Flowers'

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Arthur Mitchell describes his roles with June Taylor and Donald McKayle

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Arthur Mitchell remembers dancing in European productions

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Arthur Mitchell describes his perspective on religion

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Arthur Mitchell describes his performance in George Balanchine's 'Western Symphony'

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Arthur Mitchell describes the African American dance community of the 1940s

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Arthur Mitchell describes the School of American Ballet and 'House of Flowers'

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Arthur Mitchell reflects upon being the first African American dancer in the New York City Ballet

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Arthur Mitchell describes how he became a member of the New York City Ballet

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Arthur Mitchell remembers learning ballet techniques

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Arthur Mitchell talks about the differences between dance companies

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Arthur Mitchell recalls Tanaquil Le Clercq's polio diagnosis

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Arthur Mitchell describes George Balanchine's interest in Josephine Baker

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Arthur Mitchell describes his relationship with George Balanchine

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Arthur Mitchell remembers George Balanchine creating 'Agon'

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Arthur Mitchell describes the production of 'Agon'

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Arthur Mitchell describes George Balanchine's creative process

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Arthur Mitchell talks about his experiences at the New York City Ballet

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Arthur Mitchell remembers traveling to Russia with the New York City Ballet

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Arthur Mitchell remembers dancing for George Balanchine

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Arthur Mitchell recalls dancing in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Arthur Mitchell describes Tanaquil Le Clercq's role at the Dance Theatre of Harlem

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Arthur Mitchell remembers George Balanchine's reputation

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Arthur Mitchell talks about the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Arthur Mitchell recalls working with Doris Jones and Claire Haywood

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Arthur Mitchell recalls founding the National Ballet Company of Brazil

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Arthur Mitchell describes his ballet, 'Rhythmetron'

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Arthur Mitchell remembers his Broadway roles

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Arthur Mitchell remembers 'House of Flowers' and Lincoln Kirstein

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Arthur Mitchell remembers choreographing 'The Cotton Club'

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Arthur Mitchell recalls founding the Dance Theatre of Harlem in New York City

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Arthur Mitchell reflects upon his teaching style

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Arthur Mitchell describes the Dance Theatre of Harlem's repertoire

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Arthur Mitchell recalls the Dance Theatre of Harlem's debut performance

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Arthur Mitchell remembers dancing in Spoleto, Italy

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Arthur Mitchell reflects upon the state of the arts in New York City

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Arthur Mitchell remembers Geoffrey Holder, Katherine Dunham and George Balanchine

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Arthur Mitchell describes the Dance Theatre of Harlem's international tours

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Arthur Mitchell recalls his trips to Russia, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Arthur Mitchell recalls his trips to Russia, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Arthur Mitchell describes the funding for the Dance Theatre of Harlem

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Arthur Mitchell describes the faculty of the Dance Theatre of Harlem

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Arthur Mitchell reflects upon his work with the Dance Theatre of Harlem

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Arthur Mitchell recalls an instance of vandalism at the Dance Theatre of Harlem

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Arthur Mitchell remembers purchasing a studio for the Dance Theatre of Harlem

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Arthur Mitchell describes his ballet, 'Creole Giselle'

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Arthur Mitchell recalls the Dance Theatre of Harlem's principal dancers

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Arthur Mitchell describes the television broadcast of 'Creole Giselle'

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Arthur Mitchell reflects upon the success of the Dance Theatre of Harlem

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Arthur Mitchell reflects upon the Dance Theatre of Harlem's funding, pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Arthur Mitchell reflects upon the Dance Theatre of Harlem' funding, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Arthur Mitchell recalls the Dance Theatre of Harlem strike

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Arthur Mitchell reflects upon men and women's patronage of the arts

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Arthur Mitchell talks about the Harlem Homecoming program

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Arthur Mitchell reflects upon his awards and honors

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Arthur Mitchell describes the Dance Theatre of Harlem's international appeal

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Arthur Mitchell describes his departure from the Dance Theatre of Harlem

Tape: 9 Story: 9 - Arthur Mitchell reflects upon the future of the Dance Theatre of Harlem

Tape: 9 Story: 10 - Arthur Mitchell describes his international travels

Tape: 9 Story: 11 - Arthur Mitchell reflects upon his impact on the black dance community, pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 12 - Arthur Mitchell reflects upon his impact in the black dance community, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 13 - Arthur Mitchell describes his plans for the future

Tape: 9 Story: 14 - Arthur Mitchell describes his choreographic process

Tape: 9 Story: 15 - Arthur Mitchell remembers working with Marian Anderson and Aretha Franklin

Tape: 9 Story: 16 - Arthur Mitchell reflects upon his life

Tape: 9 Story: 17 - Arthur Mitchell talks about his archive

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$6

DAStory

10$8

DATitle
Arthur Mitchell describes his performance in George Balanchine's 'Western Symphony'
Arthur Mitchell recalls founding the Dance Theatre of Harlem in New York City
Transcript
Can we talk about your time at New York City Ballet?$$Yeah (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) And working with Balanchine, because [George Balanchine]--$$Well the (laughter)--$$What?$$When you join a company, the, the small roles and things like that went to the latest dancer and Todd Bolender did a ballet called 'Souvenirs' and they wanted me to be the elevator operator and close the door. I said, "Now let's get, I, no, no, no, no, no, I will get in and close the door, but I'm not wearing white gloves." I, I've always been like, "No, no, no," and I've always fought for what I thought was right. And I started by da- I did 'Western Symphony' [George Balanchine]. Jacques [Jacques d'Amboise] was doing the movie 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers' and he was in Hollywood doing the movie so I made my debut doing the fourth movement of 'Western Symphony' with Balanchine's wife at that time, Tanaquil Le Clercq. And it was historic. I mean, and I said to Mr. Ba- I said, "Now Mr. B," or Mr. Bal- not Mr. B, "Mr. Balanchine, I don't want any publicity, take me in the company and I will get everything I got due to my talent and hard work, not that I was gonna be black." So he said, "Oh, black man," I said, "Not a black guy breaks the bonds going to ballet and stuff like that," and that's one of the things I said to Mr. Balanchine, "If you put me in the company, just let me get it on my hard work not because of the black da-da-da-da-da." And I said, "Don't tell anybody that I'm in the company," there was no publicity that, Negro breaks barriers or like that. And I remember dancing opening night and there's this bald-headed guy sitting and when I came out he just shot up in his seat, he said, "Oh my God they got a nigger in the company." And I, and I always danced, when I star- for my mother [Willie Hearns Mitchell], my people and stuff like that. And I said, "Okay. I'm gonna be the best I can," and by the end of the evening, I got a standing ovation. And To- what's his name, John, no, John Martin from The New York Times he said oh, the--there's a terrible article that he wrote, he said the--there was something that, the way he phrased it, the novelty of the we- the novelty of the company, they've got a black guy. He said, "But ballet is not--is alien to the physiology, the psychological thing that, it's just not part of their makeup." I said, "Well I'll prove him wrong." And--and I would do little gigs, I mean I would do little thin- anybody that needed a dancer, I would go dance with them, but it was mostly modern dance. And the company, I had been at the school [School of American Ballet, New York, New York], I was eighteen, now this I was around twenty-one now. See there's so much pressed in all this, it's not like it was ten years at--$$Right, right. That's right.$$--that I was the first to do it. I said fine, I like that, but I want to be a ballet dancer and I want them to treat me right.$Let's go to the beginning of Dance Theatre of Harlem [New York, New York]. So, who, how does this--do you go to--how, how do you co--$$How did it come about?$$Yes.$$I never wanted to start it, I just wanted to get a school and give the young kids in Harlem [New York, New York] a chance to get the classical training. And I knew there was a lot of talent there, but I said now, okay. So I got my first grant from the Ford Foundation [New York, New York] and we had to match the money with earned income and contributions. So out of that, I had to make a company that could sta- a group of dancers, we would go around to the schools, we've got--and get earned income. And we went everywhere. And Tania Leon, our musical director, she came from Cuba and she came one day to play class, and I said, "Oh I'm gonna hire you (unclear)." She said, "Oh." "I want you to conduct." She said, "I don't know." I said, "Just move your hand big, keep the rhythm and da-da-da-da." So she became our conductor. The animosity and, well you can say hatred was, people said that, "[HistoryMaker] Arthur Mitchell's crazy. He's starting a ballet company in Harlem. Black people can't do ballet. They got." And so I said well that's what we're going to do. And I asked Balanchine [George Balanchine] to give me his ballets because it's always said that if you dance Balanchine's ballets you will automatically get better. So we did 'Concerto Barocco' [George Balanchine], we did 'Agon' [George Balanchine], 'Four Temperaments' [George Balanchine], 'Allegro Brillante' [George Balanchine] and I have to honestly say a lot of those ballets we danced them better than everybody else. And it was a very beautiful company. And Balanchine says, "You know my dear, you know my dear, ten years he will have the most beautiful company in the world." And it was.$$It was. So it was almost his dream though too, right, he had. This was the sixteen black--black females (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Yeah. And he, he (laughter) he, he was, and we would talk about food, we would talk about clothing, we'd talk about the psyche and things like that, and he liked that 'cause no one I--we became like friends rather than my boss and his student. And he, and he knew that Lincoln [Lincoln Kirstein] liked me. I said, "Mr. Balanchine, I don't get involved with all that foolishness, that, that's silly." I said, "These people think they're gonna sleep their way to the top, it doesn't happen." And so they used to call me the man with the iron drawers. They said, "Nobody's gonna (laughter)." Because they say, "You know, Mitchell," and all the young designers, and such, they all wanted to work with me. And they made my clothes and then I would have things made for Mr. Balanchine. We'd do a ballet, he says, "No, no, no, no, costumes not right." Let me--I'd go home and bring clothes and those became the costumes for New York City Ballet. I mean I was enterprising, you know what I mean. And the Modern Jazz Quartet, Balanchine wanted to do a jazz ballet.$$So, so he blessed you starting the school (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Well yes, in a sense, I, how can I say it. He was carrying over all the attraction that he had with [HistoryMaker] Katherine Dunham or Josephine Baker and he had worked with the Nicholas brothers [HistoryMaker Fayard Nicholas and Harold Nicholas], you know, they can romp, and I can't do that, but he always liked that fact. Like he said, "You know my dear, I do 'Slaughter on Tenth Av- Tenth Avenue' ['Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,' George Balanchine] who can tap." I'd say, "I can tap." "Not that kind of--." And he brought Ray Bolger in to coach me. And Ray Bolger said, "No, you know, it's just (gesture), it's no steps it's just an attitude." I said, "Okay fine." So that's what I did.

Judith Jamison

Dancer and choreographer Judith Jamison was born on May 10, 1943 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Tessie Brown Jamison and John Jamison, Sr. While encouraged by her parents to study the piano and violin, Jamison gravitated towards ballet. At the age of six, Jamison began taking lessons at the Judimar School of Dance in Philadelphia. She went on to study the techniques of African American dance pioneer Katherine Dunham. Jamison graduated from Germantown High School in Philadelphia, and enrolled at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. However, she left Fisk to study dance and kinesiology at the Philadelphia Dance Academy, now part of New York City’s University of the Arts.

In 1964, Jamison earned critical acclaim for her work with choreographer Agnes de Mille and the American Ballet Theatre in New York. A year later, Alvin Ailey invited Jamison to join the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, where she was featured in numerous productions, toured with the company to Africa and Europe and earned international acclaim for her signature performance of Cry, a fifteen minute solo piece written by Ailey for Jamison. Jamison went on to appear as a guest performer with the San Francisco Ballet, the Swedish Royal Ballet, the Cullberg Ballet, and the Vienna State Ballet. In 1980, Jamison performed on Broadway in Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies with Gregory Hines. That same year, Jamison began her own work as a choreographer. She premiered her first ballet, Divining, with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1984. In 1988, Jamison founded The Jamison Project Dance Company.

Jamison returned to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1989, assuming the role of artistic director following the death of founder Alvin Ailey. In 1993, Jamison choreographed Hymn, a tribute to Ailey, and published her autobiography, Dancing Spirit. Under her leadership, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater joined forces with Fordham University to establish a joint bachelor of fine arts program with a multicultural dance curriculum. Jamison also spearheaded the construction of the company’s first permanent home, the Joan Weill Center for Dance. Although Jamison stepped down as artistic director in 2011, she remained associated with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater as artistic director emerita.

Judith Jamison was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 30, 2016.

Accession Number

A2016.014

Sex

Female

Interview Date

8/30/2016

Last Name

Jamison

Maker Category
Marital Status

Divorced

Occupation
Schools

Charles W. Henry School

Germantown High School

Fisk University

University of the Arts

First Name

Judith

Birth City, State, Country

Philadelphia

HM ID

JAM07

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Pennsylvania

Favorite Vacation Destination

Toubab Dialao, Senegal

Favorite Quote

Pray, Prepare And Proceed.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

5/10/1943

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Salad

Short Description

Dancer and choreographer Judith Jamison (1943 - ) gained international acclaim as a dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, before taking over as the company's artistic director in 1989 following the death of founder Alvin Ailey.

Employment

American Ballet Theatre

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Harkness Ballet

Jacob's Pillow

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Judith Jamison's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Judith Jamison lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Judith Jamison describes her father

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Judith Jamison describes her religious upbringing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Judith Jamison describes her mother

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Judith Jamison recalls her family's support during her early years in dance

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Judith Jamison describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Judith Jamison describes her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Judith Jamison describes her early dance training with Marion Cuyjet

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Judith Jamison remembers her childhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Judith Jamison describes her schools in Philadelphia

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Judith Jamison remembers her decision to attend Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Judith Jamison describes her experiences at Fisk University

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Judith Jamison recalls her introduction to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Judith Jamison describes the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater style

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Judith Jamison recalls auditioning for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Judith Jamison reflects upon her dance training

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$2

DAStory

9$7

DATitle
Judith Jamison describes her early dance training with Marion Cuyjet
Judith Jamison recalls auditioning for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Transcript
So, but Marion Cuyjet, what, can you talk about her role?$$Yeah.$$Because she also was an interesting person (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Yeah, Marion, Marion, oh my goodness; Ms. Marion, we called her--$$Ms. Marion.$$--Ms. Marion, we never called her Marion. I didn't even call her Marion when she came to see me dance and I was an adult. I was like, "Hi Ms. Marion," and became this little kid again, you know. She was an amazing black woman who looked white. She had red hair, white skin and green eyes and she was as black as you and me and she was proud of that and she started a school [Judimar School of Dance, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania] for the little black kids who study ballet because you couldn't study back then. To this day people still have trouble getting in schools to study classical ballet; so she made that possible, I mean that's her, she made, she opened a world to us that was not just about classical ballet, but about [HistoryMaker] Katherine Dunham 'cause she was studying--she was teaching Dunham's technique, tap. I'm so glad I had tap because I ended up on Broadway starring in 'Sophisticated Ladies' with Gregory Hines, the greatest, oh my goodness, what a dancer he was and there I was on the stage with him. Thank God I had--Ann Bernardino [Veda Ann Bernardino] was my tap teacher back then. We had the, in--I said Dunham classes, we had acrobatics, that's when I found out there was no way I was going to be a gymnast, no way, this back does not do what gymnasts' backs do, didn't enjoy that, but learned something, had to try it, right. So she gave us the--and she gave tea dances. On Saturday afternoons and she would have guys, the guys in the school and the girls in the school and we'd have gloves on and little skirts and it would be tea on the side and she would actually have dances where you know, you had to stay that far apart and the guy was like this (gesture) and you danced you know, it was, it was very formal and very enriching, I mean you learned so much about how, how to be social even though I wasn't, but you learned how to be, you know, and to engage other people in conversation other than dance. This was one thing I loved about Alvin [Alvin Ailey], Mr. Ailey, he taught us how to do, how to, how to live outside of the box of dance and engage everyone because everyone's your audience.$$Well I was surprised also with how many people she, you know, what, how much you were exposed to--$$Oh yeah.$$--from a dance perspective, through, through, through Ms. Marion (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Right. And she was, and she also farmed me out so-to- speak, farmed me out. Was--and she--I don't know if everybody was getting the same attention I was getting and I'm not, I can't remember that everyone got a chance to study with Antony Tudor when you, they were ten years old, you know, or that--I started taking private lessons with a, oh, what was his name, Yuri Gottschalk, he was a marvelous--I think he was a Latvian, please be Latvian. When I, when I was a kid, I was ten, eleven, twelve and I would take class at his home holding on--there's a thing called the barre; you start class with the barre, you're at the barre, you hold on to the barre and you do--I use to hold on to his stove and he use to put oil on the floor and if anybody knows anything about maintaining these positions that we have in, in ballet, first position, second position, it's based on rotation of the hips, so you were turned out, very unnatural way to stand, but you rotated and turned out, your, your feet are turned out this way (gesture) and in order to hold that properly you really have to use muscles that you don't think you have, you've got to find them and if somebody puts oil under, you better find those muscles otherwise your feet just slide back and, so here I was learning these little tricks of the trade that really would help me later on because Marion passed me on as I was studying her to all these different teachers, excellent teachers.$So you, you tell the story of how you were at the audition and you know he [Alvin Ailey] (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Oh, it was a disaster.$$--sees you, what does he see, that's what I'm saying--he called--$$I have no idea.$$You've never, you've (unclear)--$$I did not. I was terrible at that audition. All I know is I've always had an upward trajectory in my head that I had God's ear and that I was just going this way (gesture) up, up, up, up, up, up, up, up; okay, so in that can you imagine my emotions after not having danced for three months; because I was working the World's Fair [1964 New York World's Fair, New York, New York], you know (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) (Unclear)--$$--from '64 [1964], '65 [1965] after Ballet Theatre [American Ballet Theatre]. There're no black people in Ballet Theatre, hello, now, what do we have, one, two, three something, but you know, every step, what can I say, but there was no gigs, so I was there at the log flume ride Texas Pavilion, that's when Martha Johnson comes in, the pianist I was telling you about at Ballet Theatre, she tells me to go to an audition. I haven't danced for three months. I'm at an audition with people who have been dancing for their lives and back then in 1965, black women were wearing wigs like crazy, lashes like this (gesture), heels, stiletto heels. You went to an audition for a television show. You didn't show up in pink ballet shoes and tights, which is what I did and, and then I couldn't learn a step because it was a wonderful woman named Paula Kelly, who was an extraordinary dancer, who was demonstrating Mr. McKayle's, [HistoryMaker] Donald McKayle's steps and I had never seen steps like that before and I was so stunned by the steps and by her executing them and I was like (gesture), I couldn't learn a thing. I was too stunned. I was just (gesture) so that he calls me three days later after I failed this audition miserably and I didn't even see him at the audition. I didn't know he was there. I just passed by somebody that was sitting on the steps. I didn't know it was him because I was like this (gesture). I was totally in a state of shock, calling my mother [Tessie Brown Jamison] on the phone saying, "I don't know what I'm going to do, but I want to stay in New York [New York], but I don't know, you know," I'm boohooing. And that's the three days later then he calls me and said, "Would you like--this is Alvin Ailey, would you like to join my company [Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater]?" And of course I go, "Yeah, fabulous," and I'm excited and all that, but it's like a blur. It's like a blur. I didn't, I didn't go like, "What did he see in me that he would--?" I didn't then, that, and then I walk into the, the, rehearsal, my first rehearsal and all those people that I saw on stage, not all of them, but some of them are in that, and the first partner I had is the person that I--you know, I mean that, that, you just kind of--and you walk in, I walked in like, like this (gesture), you know like, "Oh, Mr. Truitte [James Truitte]." And then he says, "Girl get over there and learn those steps," you know, I mean--it was just shut down right away, that come on, this is terra firma, you've got a gig now. We're going out in, in four weeks, in three weeks, you got two weeks, you've got to learn eight ballets, go learn them, boom, boom. I went to work right away, there was no like awe and you know, like, like people on pedestals or anything like that, you had your chance when you saw him on stage, then you put him on a pedestal, now you're working with him, guess what, no time for that other stuff. So it wasn't until much later that I figured he saw--and he would tell me that I was probably the most musical dancer he had ever had. I was totally musical, innately musical, that there were things that, how did he call it, revatto [ph.]. There were things that I understood about continuing movement and stopping movement and just a, in, just a natural talent, not a technique talent, you, you've got to learn technique. A lot of people, black people, get into that all the time where it takes no thought, you can dance, you've always been able to dance, not like that, I had to go to school to learn how to do this, period, you know. But yes, he saw that musicality in me and he would, he would--that's why when we were working together that he didn't have to turn around and tell me a whole bunch of stuff. He didn't have to explain a lot of things to me. He would do the movement and I would do the movement copying him and there's no way I could look like him doing the movement, but what, when he would turn around he would be pleased.$$With what he saw--$$Yeah, most of the time (laughter), most of the time. So, yeah, that, he, he, he saw something--I always, when I see dancers that are really special to me it's like they're, they're not from this planet. They are from someplace else you know, they've, they've just arrived, they're here for a little bit then they go on back to where they, where they came from in the first place. They, they're creatures. They're creatures. They, they're human when they step off the stage and do whatever they're doing there, but they are, they are creatures that have, that are full of, of this loving humanity that they only want to share with you for that two and a half hours on stage, isn't that a wonderful thing you know, and when that, when that hits you know it, the audience knows it, you know it and you go away with an experience that you'll never forget. That's what I saw when I saw the company the first time, you know.

Mercedes Ellington

Dancer and choreographer Mercedes Ellington was born on February 9, 1939 in New York City to Ruth Silas Batts and trumpet player and conductor Mercer Ellington, son of renowned composer and bandleader Duke Ellington. Ellington was raised by her maternal grandparents Louise Petgrave Silas and Alfred Silas, who enrolled her in dance and ballet classes at an early age. Ellington received a scholarship to attend The Metropolitan Opera School of Ballet, but decided to enroll at The Julliard School at her father’s insistence. She graduated with her B.A. degree in classical and modern dance in 1960.

Ellington’s first professional role was in a production of West Side Story in Australia. She also appeared in productions of On the Town and Pal Joey at the New York City Center. In 1963, Ellington became the first African American member of the June Taylor Dancers, the featured performers on The Jackie Gleason Show. She danced with the June Taylor Dancers for seven years, until she moved on to perform in Broadway shows like No, No Nannette, The Night That Made America Famous, The Grand Tour, and Happy New Year. In 1981, Ellington starred in Sophisticated Ladies alongside her father, who conducted the Duke Ellington Orchestra. In 1983, she co-founded BalleTap, later named DancEllington, with Maurice Hines. Ellington produced award-winning choreography in musicals such as Blues in the Night, Juba, Satchmo and Tuxedo Junction. The organization dissolved in 1992, and Ellington went on to direct the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Tribute to the Spirit of Harlem in 2001. In 2004, Ellington founded Duke Ellington Center for the Arts, a non-profit organization dedicated to scholarship, education, and performance connected to the legacy of Duke Ellington.

Ellington’s choreography and commitment to her grandfather’s legacy earned her numerous honors and awards, including the Actor’s Equity Association’s Paul Robeson Award and the FloBert Lifetime Achievement Award. She also served as a judge for the Capezio Dance Awards, and as a member of the Screen Actors’ Guild and the American Tap Dance Foundation. In addition, Ellington served on the local and national boards of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. In 2016, she also co-authored a book entitled Duke Ellington: An American Composer and Icon with Stephen Brower.

Mercedes Ellington was interviewed by The History Makers on August 12, 2016.

Accession Number

A2016.010

Sex

Female

Interview Date

08/12/2016

Last Name

Ellington

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

The Juilliard School

St. Walburga's Academy

Our Lady of Lourdes School

First Name

Mercedes

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

ELL05

Favorite Season

Fall, Winter

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

Don't Piss In My Vest Pocket And Tell Me It's Raining.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

2/9/1939

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Lamb Chops

Short Description

Dancer and choreographer Mercedes Ellington (1939 - ), the granddaughter of Duke Ellington, was the first African American member of the June Taylor Dancers on The Jackie Gleason Show. She also opened The Duke Ellington Center for the Arts.

Employment

DancEllington

The Jackie Gleason Show

BalleTap USA

'West Side Story'

'On The Town'

'Pal Joey'

'No No Nanette'

'Sophisticated Ladies'

'Blues in the Night'

'Juba'

'Tuxedo Junction'

Favorite Color

Cerise

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Mercedes Ellington's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Mercedes Ellington lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Mercedes Ellington talks about her maternal family's ballroom dances

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Mercedes Ellington describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Mercedes Ellington describes her maternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Mercedes Ellington remembers her maternal grandparents' home

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Mercedes Ellington describes her earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Mercedes Ellington recalls her early dance lessons and recitals

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Mercedes Ellington describes the sights of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Mercedes Ellington remembers New York City's Sugar Hill neighborhood

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Mercedes Ellington describes Our Lady of Lourdes School in New York City

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Mercedes Ellington recalls being raised by her grandparents

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Mercedes Ellington talks about living with her maternal grandparents

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Mercedes Ellington describes her father's early interests

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Mercedes Ellington talks about her paternal grandparents' marriage

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Mercedes Ellington describes her relationship with her paternal grandmother

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Mercedes Ellington remembers Duke Ellington's mistresses, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Mercedes Ellington talks about Duke Ellington's world tours

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Mercedes Ellington remembers Duke Ellington's affairs

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Mercedes Ellington shares her hope to bring Duke Ellington's music to Cuba

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Mercedes Ellington talks about her parents' relationship

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Mercedes Ellington recalls her relationship with her mother

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Mercedes Ellington describes her siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Mercedes Ellington describes her father's musical talents

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Mercedes Ellington talks about her early dance influences

Tape: 2 Story: 14 - Mercedes Ellington recalls enduring discrimination in dance school

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Mercedes Ellington remembers the limited opportunities for dancers of color

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Mercedes Ellington recalls her family's advice about her career

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Mercedes Ellington talks about The Juilliard School

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Mercedes Ellington describes the Martha Graham modern dance technique

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Mercedes Ellington recalls living at The Juilliard School's International House

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Mercedes Ellington recalls living with her father

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Mercedes Ellington remembers her first professional role

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Mercedes Ellington recalls her grandfather's influence

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Mercedes Ellington describes her father's second marriage

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Mercedes Ellington describes her father's death and his will

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Mercedes Ellington lists her performances in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Mercedes Ellington recalls auditioning for 'The Jackie Gleason Show'

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Mercedes Ellington remembers being selected as a June Taylor Dancer

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Mercedes Ellington describes her experience as a June Taylor Dancer

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Mercedes Ellington recalls her salary on 'The Jackie Gleason Show'

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Mercedes Ellington describes Jackie Gleason's big band show

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Mercedes Ellington recalls joining the cast of 'No, No Nanette'

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Mercedes Ellington talks about the filming of 'The Jackie Gleason Show'

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Mercedes Ellington recalls her first Broadway performance in 'No, No, Nanette'

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Mercedes Ellington describes her union memberships

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Mercedes Ellington talks about female empowerment on Broadway

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Mercedes Ellington recalls her paternal grandfather seeing her performance

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Mercedes Ellington remembers Duke Ellington's death

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Mercedes Ellington describes the production behind 'Sophisticated Ladies'

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Mercedes Ellington describes her additional sources of income

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Mercedes Ellington lists her volunteer activities

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Mercedes Ellington recalls competing in ballroom dancing competitions

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Mercedes Ellington recalls the cast of 'Sophisticated Ladies'

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Mercedes Ellington describes the hectic performances of 'Sophisticated Ladies'

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Mercedes Ellington remembers Gregory Hines's termination from the production of 'Sophisticated Ladies'

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Mercedes Ellington talks about the success of 'Sophisticated Ladies'

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Mercedes Ellington describes her father's role in 'Sophisticated Ladies'

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Mercedes Ellington describes the creation of BalleTap USA

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Mercedes Ellington recalls touring with BalleTap USA in Japan

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Mercedes Ellington talks about choreographing 'Blues in the Night'

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Mercedes Ellington recalls choreographing 'Juba'

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Mercedes Ellington talks about the inspiration behind 'Juba'

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Mercedes Ellington recalls choreographing 'Tuxedo Junction'

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Mercedes Ellington talks about her philosophy for performances

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Mercedes Ellington describes her hopes for Duke Ellington's legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Mercedes Ellington describes her brother's management of the Duke Ellington estate

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Mercedes Ellington talks about her engagement

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Mercedes Ellington shares her views on marriage

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Mercedes Ellington describes the Duke Ellington Center for the Arts

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Mercedes Ellington talks about her father's role in the Ellington family legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Mercedes Ellington describes her siblings

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Mercedes Ellington reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 11 - Mercedes Ellington describes 'Duke Ellington: An American Composer and Icon'

Tape: 7 Story: 12 - Mercedes Ellington reflects upon her life

Tape: 7 Story: 13 - Mercedes Ellington shares her advice for aspiring dancers

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Mercedes Ellington narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$4

DAStory

8$4

DATitle
Mercedes Ellington recalls her early dance lessons and recitals
Mercedes Ellington remembers being selected as a June Taylor Dancer
Transcript
But you also learned to read at a very early age, correct (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Yes, yeah I learned to read and learned to dance at an early age too, because they had a recital, they had a dance and exercise school or it--it was really a dance school. But I ne- I remember my first shoes, again with the shoes, was rhythm shoes and these were like suede shoes with el- elastic across the top. And I wanted ballet shoes because I was a ballet fiend, fan from the very beginning. I used to cut out pictures in the newspapers and anybody had an old magazine I was really crazy about ballet pictures and I'd paste them in the book. And so I would--these rhythm shoes we--we used them to, to have our recitals. And it was a big deal because these were things that people in the neighborhood [Sugar Hill, New York, New York] really had to stretch their budget to afford to buy because it wasn't a necessary thing, it was, you know, a luxury to be able to afford dance shoes and sometimes at the recitals to pay for the dance costumes. And my first costume that I remember was as a snowflake in 'The Nutcracker,' and this white puffy tutu. And later on though, I--there some people in the neighborhood that were ballet teachers and my [maternal] grandmother [Louise Petgrave Silas] found out about them. There was--there were two people, the Facey twins, Marjorie [Marjorie Facey] and Marion Facey and they taught dance. And they--their claim to fame was that they were taught by Aubrey Hitchens who was a partner of Pavlova [Anna Pavlova]. So that--with that reputation, you know, everybody was wanting to take from these people, because it was as if they, themselves, were you know, had taken from Pavlova, which of course it's the same type of dance, it's the same style. But of course nobody ever saw Pavlova in our--our neighborhood. But there was also another guy who taught dance and his name was Sheldon Hoskins, yeah, Sheldon Hoskins.$$And this was all when you were a little girl?$$Yeah.$$So dance became important starting from nursery school?$$Yes.$I looked at--down the line and there was like maybe eighteen people left and I figured that maybe she [June Taylor] had forgotten about me, but then Gleason [Jackie Gleason] came in the room and he was--he had the producer, Jack Philbin and the director and a lot of reporters came in. And they sat there and she put her head together with Gleason and they were talking for a moment amongst themselves and then she stood up and said--made the announcement, "Ladies you are the new June Taylor Dancers." And there were two swings at that point because June Taylor Dancers are only sixteen people, and I--I remember like--I--I said well maybe I didn't hear her correctly or maybe again, maybe she just forgot about me. But I was in the lineup and I was very--I don't know I kind of in a fog, I--I--I can't even think of how I felt. I--I said well if this is true, that means I will have money to do this and do this, and I kept--I just started calculating in my head, I can pay my rent, I can do this, I can buy these--these shoes. But then, she came and talked to me afterwards and she said, "If you're not--if you don't live up to this job, I'm go--I'm going to fire you--I'll fi-," because she--she had a habit of firing somebody every week anyway if they didn't live up to the job. Because the thing was it was live TV, they never stopped for anybody, you could fall down and they wouldn't stop. So what--it just had to be, you know, you just kept going and she said, "Well, this is it, you--you've, you know, you've become, but if I was you, I would maybe hone up on my tap dancing a little bit." So what I would do after every rehearsal I would go around the corner, across the street and take an hour of tap da--tap lessons, and this was like practically every day.$$And how long were the rehearsals?$$All day, they were at ea- eight hours. Usually eight hours.$$So you are cast, now you're the first and only African American in--in her group, correct?$$Yes.$$What does that mean? Can you place this in context, 'cause it's television, it's live television, Jackie Gleason was a huge celebrity back then, was he not?$$Yes, very big, very big. Now we're talking about JFK [President John Fitzgerald Kennedy] is president. And during my first year tenure is when he was assa- assassinated. And it was--I mean a lot of things were happening, politically and in the entertainment business with all of these people and the change of--of in the arts in general, not only in television but the concert stage, the opera stage, the ballet stage, where things were getting to be a little bit more equalized. And--and here we had this guy--this wonderful guy in the office as the president who was actually concerned and interested in the arts and concerned with arts. It was almost like you were living in a, you know, utopia for a moment. And course after the assassination and everything else, you know, after that was.

Bill T. Jones

Dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones was born on February 15, 1952 in Bunnell, Florida. He was the tenth of twelve children born to Estella Jones and Augustus Jones, both migrant farmers. At the age of twelve, Jones’ family moved to Wayland County in upstate New York. After graduating from Wayland High School, Jones enrolled at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton where he studied dance and participated in track and field.

In 1971, Jones met Arnie Zane, a photographer, who helped him discover his destiny as a dancer. Jones and Zane joined with one of their professors, Lois Welk, to form the American Dance Asylum (ADA). Their work with the ADA eventually led to Jones’ solo debut with the Dance Theatre Workshop’s Choreographers’ Showcase in 1977. During the next few years, Jones and Zane performed internationally. In 1982, Jones and Zane formed the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. Although the dance troupe met with great success, Zane took ill in 1984; and, in 1988, he died of AIDS-related lymphoma. Jones continued to work with the troupe and created personal works that allowed him to express his grief. One such work, “Absence,” made its debut in 1989. In 1990, the troupe premiered another work inspired by Zane, “Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

In addition to creating more than 140 works for his own company, Jones has been commissioned to create dances for several modern and ballet companies, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Boston Ballet, Lyon Opera Ballet, and Berlin Opera Ballet, among others. Jones directed and performed in a collaborative work with Toni Morrison and Max Roach, “Degga” (1995), at Alice Tully Hall, which was commissioned by the Lincoln Center’s Serious Fun Festival. His collaboration with Jessye Norman, “How! Do! We! Do!” (1999), premiered at New York’s City Center. In 2010, Jones was named executive artistic director of New York Live Arts, a company formed by a merger of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and Dance Theater Workshop.

Jones’ work has been recognized with the 2010 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award; the 2005 Wexner Prize; the 2005 Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement; the 2003 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize; and the 1993 Dance Magazine Award. Jones has also received Honorary Doctorate Degrees from Yale University, the Art Institute of Chicago, Bard College, Columbia College, Skidmore College, the Juilliard School, and Swarthmore College. He is a recipient of the State University of New York at Binghamton Distinguished Alumni Award.

Bill T. Jones was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 8, 2014.

Accession Number

A2014.190

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/8/2014

Last Name

Jones

Maker Category
Middle Name

T.

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Wayland-Cohocton High School

State University of New York at Binghamton

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Bill

Birth City, State, Country

Bunnell

HM ID

JON38

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Florida

Favorite Vacation Destination

New Mexico

Favorite Quote

Naming Things Is Only The Intention To Make Things.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

2/15/1952

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Anything My Companion Makes

Short Description

Dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones (1952 - ) cofounded the American Dance Asylum and the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. He also served as executive artistic director of New York Live Arts.

Employment

American Dance Asylum

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company

New York Live Arts

Dance Theatre Workshop

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
0,0:10080,217:10368,222:14595,246:18195,367:28620,577:37640,661:71730,1284:76755,1429:109352,1935:118091,2134:121094,2224:127950,2324:132375,2449:149614,2711:149962,2716:156835,2855:157357,2862:163969,2955:164491,2962:171036,3021:171756,3037:172836,3077:202964,3508:204830,3531$0,0:2607,53:3160,61:4187,177:13625,352:23565,587:38660,815:39540,827:41460,921:63533,1219:64101,1229:66586,1277:67367,1291:72266,1402:74112,1463:75461,1503:76810,1537:77520,1554:80502,1647:80999,1656:88840,1680:93000,1749:95184,1799:95704,1805:114950,2017:120880,2135:125600,2226:140458,2456:145160,2531:148730,2595
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Bill T. Jones' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Bill T. Jones lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Bill T. Jones describes his father's upbringing and occupation

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Bill T. Jones describes his mother's upbringing and personality

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Bill T. Jones talks about how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Bill T. Jones describes his likeness to his parents

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Bill T. Jones describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Bill T. Jones describes his home in Wayland, New York

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Bill T. Jones lists his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Bill T. Jones describes the African American community in Wayland, New York

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Bill T. Jones talks about race relations in Wayland, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Bill T. Jones describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Bill T. Jones remembers his most influential teachers

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Bill T. Jones describes his experiences at the Wayland Central School in Wayland, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Bill T. Jones remembers his house burning down

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Bill T. Jones recalls his family's musical talents

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Bill T. Jones recalls his introduction to dance

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Bill T. Jones recalls working with Percival Borde

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Bill T. Jones remembers meeting Arnie Zane

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Bill T. Jones remembers traveling to Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Bill T. Jones remembers studying dance in California with Lois Welk

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Bill T. Jones recalls establishing the American Dance Asylum

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Bill T. Jones describes the style of the American Dance Asylum

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Bill T. Jones remembers documenting his early choreography

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Bill T. Jones lists the choreographers who influenced him

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Bill T. Jones recalls his debut at the Delacorte Theater in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Bill T. Jones recalls the response to his first major performance

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Bill T. Jones talks about his relationship with Lois Welk

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Bill T. Jones talks about his partnership with Arnie Zane

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Bill T. Jones talks about the critical reception of his work

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Bill T. Jones remembers meeting Alvin Ailey

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Bill T. Jones describes his choreographic influences, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Bill T. Jones describe his choreographic influences, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Bill T. Jones remembers forming the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Bill T. Jones talks about Arnie Zane's death

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Bill T. Jones describes the influence of the AIDS crisis upon his work

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Bill T. Jones talks about his grieving process

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Bill T. Jones remembers his relationship with Arthur Aviles

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Bill T. Jones recalls the start of his relationship with Bjorn Amelan

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Bill T. Jones reflects upon his romantic relationships

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Bill T. Jones remembers receiving a MacArthur Fellowship

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Bill T. Jones talks about his critics

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Bill T. Jones describes his family's reaction to his work

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Bill T. Jones remembers collaborating with Max Roach and Toni Morrison

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Bill T. Jones remembers his choreography for 'Spring Awakening'

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Bill T. Jones remembers directing and choreographing 'Fela!'

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Bill T. Jones recalls his company's merger with the Dance Theater Workshop

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Bill T. Jones talks about New York Live Arts

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Bill T. Jones describes 'Story/Time'

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Bill T. Jones talks about 'Analogy/Dora: Tramontane'

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Bill T. Jones describes 'A Letter to My Nephew'

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Bill T. Jones describes his plans for the future

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Bill T. Jones reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Bill T. Jones describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$5

DAStory

7$5

DATitle
Bill T. Jones recalls his debut at the Delacorte Theater in New York City
Bill T. Jones remembers collaborating with Max Roach and Toni Morrison
Transcript
In '77 [1977] is when you have your--your debut (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Debut at the Delacorte Theater [New York, New York].$$So tell me how that came to--came about.$$Around this time--was it around the same time that we had seen Robert Wilson at the Met [Metropolitan Opera House, New York, New York]? I'm not sure; the dates don't quite work out. But we were down in one of our few visits to New York [New York] like I--as I say, we had this kind of--we were dismissing New York. Came down, and we went to take a class in release technique, which was the rage in certain quarters; very slow moving, getting at some sort of primal state of ease to release unin- uninflected or unaffected movement. I think her name was Susan Kline [ph.] was--and, and in her studio, at least the space that we were teaching, there was a poster advertising auditions at Clark Center dance festival--at the Clark Center [Clark Center for the Performing Arts; Clark Center NYC, New York, New York] for the dance festival. And on a lark, I thought, what the hell? I don't care what they say in New York; it doesn't matter, but I'll come down and try. And I came down and I did a piece that I had premiered at the American Dance Asylum with me on a pair of shoes, dancing to a high--white blocks, actually--a piece called 'Everybody Works' ['Everybody Works/All Beasts Count,' Bill T. Jones] which had been a larger piece; it had one solo, and then it was a piece about unemployment with animal heads--don't ask me; stamping your--'cause we were all unemployed--stamping your--you know, with the unemployment--you know, to get your check every week, you have to show that you looked for work. So that's what it was--'Everybody Works.' And it was Jesse Fuller, this old one man band from the Bay Area [San Francisco Bay Area, California]. (Singing), "Got the blues from my baby down by the San Francisco Bay," ['San Francisco Bay Blues'], that was one of his hits, and (singing), "Everybody works at my house but my old man" ['Everybody Works at My House but My Old Man']. So those were all musics in the solo; I auditioned it. It must have been a mess, but I--obviously it was something to it. I improvised by shouting to a stranger to turn the lights on and off 'cause, of course, they hadn't given you any time, and I was just being provocative and I, I threw in an obscene gesture in what I was doing, and I was doing everything to let them know that I was free person and I did not care. They were all sitting in the dark. For years later, people would come say, "You know, I was there the day that you did that." Now, were they the ones who voted for me or not, I don't know. And then I got a call, or some sort of notification, back in Binghamton [New York], that Louise Roberts wanted to speak to me. Louise Roberts, is a feisty Jewish woman, really important to--$$Dance.$$--progressive dance, who invited me--but with a caveat that I had to change certain things. And I said, "You are trying to censure my work." And she says, "Listen buster, you got a chip on your shoulder and New York's gonna knock it off; do you wanna do this or not?" And I sputtered a bit, and I said, "Yes, I do." And so I did the, the Delacorte Theater--biggest audience I'd ever been in front of, on the same program with the Joffrey Ballet and Charles Moore and--I don't remember the other people, but it was, it was serious dance world, and who is this person out of nowhere? That's how it happened, and it was actually well received.$I want--did Toni Morrison--I wanted to ask you about working with her and--$$And Max?$$--and Max, right.$$'Degga' [Bill T. Jones]?$$Right, that's right.$$Right, right.$$How did that come about?$$Through Max, through Max.$$Max Roach is what we're talking about (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Max Roach, he had--Max Roach, yes. And I had already--Max Roach and Arnie [Arnie Zane] and I, with Connie Crothers, had done a piece called 'Intuitive Momentum' at the Brooklyn Academy of Music [Brooklyn, New York] on one of the first Next Waves [Next Wave Festival], so he and I had a, had a relationship, and he and I had also, I think, at that point, had done some solo concerts in, in Lisbon [Portugal] and in Seville [Spain], I believe--I, I--yeah, in Seville. So we had a relationship, and then he--there was this opportunity through the Lincoln Center [Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York, New York]--Jane Moss, I believe, for us to do anything we wanted to do, and Max said, "We should get Toni involved." And he told me that--well, and Toni, and Toni said, you know, "I'm not interested in dancing and, and reading--dancing and movement." You know, she was very hu- tough like that, and Max tells me about the time that they were doing--and they flew across country to do something, an event, and she didn't speak the whole time; she was reading, and he said, "Toni, shouldn't we be talking about what we're gonna do?" She said, "You're gonna play and I'm gonna read." (Makes sound) Back to her book, you know? Now, he's bringing in this guy--I don't think she had ever even seen the work--probably, probably didn't care very much for contemporary dance, and he's bringing it in--bringing me in, and we met one afternoon in the studio; I think it was at Lincoln Center, I'm not quite sure, and she read beau- you know how she reads very quietly. She read from 'Beloved' [Toni Morrison]--enchanting; and then I danced a capella--danced a capella, and I sang a folk song as I was improvising, and something in it moved her. And then we went out to eat, and at the end of the book, I remember her say that--we were sharing, and she reached over and took a--something off my plate, and the bite, and I knew that we would be all right. And we did enjoy, we did enjoy. She, she said no, she isn't gonna dance. She said, "You want Madonna, you don't want me," you know. She had knee problems and all, and--but by the end of it--she was loose, you know, she, she enjoyed, you know. I wish we could have done it more, but it was a--one of those things I'm very, very proud of.

Sylvia Waters

Artistic director and dancer Sylvia Waters was born in New York on January 22, 1940. She began dancing in junior high school and joined an after school dance group when she was twelve years old. Waters went on to attend The Juilliard School, where she studied with Martha Graham, José Limón, and Anthony Tudor. She received her B.S. degree from Juilliard in 1962, continuing her studies at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance.

Waters began dancing with Donald McKayle’s dance company before touring Europe, performing in Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity in 1964. Waters then settled in Paris, France for three years, where she appeared on television and danced in the Paris Opera Ballet under Michel Descombey. After performing at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, in Maurice Bejart’s Ballet of the Twentieth Century, at which Alvin Ailey’s Revelations was also performed, Waters returned to the United States and began touring as a principal dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater company. In 1974, the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble, later renamed Ailey II, was founded in order to help Ailey dance students transition into the professional world. A year after its creation, Waters was hired as the director. Ailey II has since toured all over the country as one of the most successful companies in the United States.

Waters has received numerous awards, including an honorary doctorate from the State University of New York at Oswego, the Dance Magazine Award, Syracuse University’s Women of Distinction Award, and the Legacy Award from the twentieth Annual International Association of Blacks in Dance Festival. She has also served as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts, and has worked as a guest lecturer at Harvard University in 2001.

Waters lives in New York, New York.

Sylvia Waters was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 27, 2010 and October 4, 2016.

Accession Number

A2010.108

Sex

Female

Interview Date

8/27/2010 |and| 10/24/2016

Last Name

Waters

Maker Category
Marital Status

Divorced

Middle Name

B.

Schools

The Juilliard School

P.S. 186 Harlem

I.S. 164 Edward W. Stitt Junior High School

Evander Childs High School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Sylvia

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

WAT11

Favorite Season

Fall

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Italy, Turkey

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

1/22/1940

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Ice Cream, Vegetables

Short Description

Artistic director and dancer Sylvia Waters (1940 - ) was a principal dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and served as the artistic director for the Ailey II dance company for 38 years.

Employment

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Ailey II

Harvard University

Favorite Color

Black, Blue, Red, White

Timing Pairs
0,0:1476,15:8700,150:11538,195:11968,201:16268,269:18934,305:19364,312:20482,324:38214,438:43643,491:44533,516:58400,603:59648,624:65186,721:79595,894:86044,954:86504,960:86964,967:88160,984:90644,1013:91196,1020:94835,1044:95285,1051:97385,1098:97910,1107:100235,1157:103235,1211:104210,1226:129919,1527:133713,1548:134101,1557:135400,1567$0,0:2776,35:8640,69:39980,438:50060,611:74420,897:75050,951:78620,1042:78970,1048:108090,1457
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Sylvia Waters' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Sylvia Waters lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Sylvia Waters describes her parents' backgrounds and occupations

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Sylvia Waters describes her childhood experiences in Harlem, New York

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Sylvia Waters describes her experience on her maternal grandparents' farm in Onancock, Virginia

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Sylvia Waters describes her parents' educations and how they met

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Sylvia Waters talks about her childhood interest in music and pageantry

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Sylvia Waters describes her experience in a modern dance club in junior high school

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Sylvia Waters describes her modern dance classes at Evander Childs High School and at the New Dance Group Studio

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Sylvia Waters describes meeting Alvin Ailey and seeing him dance

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Sylvia Waters describes auditioning for The Juilliard School in New York City, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Sylvia Waters describes her teacher's and friend's reactions to her acceptance at The Juilliard School in New York City, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Sylvia Waters describes her experience at The Juilliard School in New York City, New York and performing with pickup companies

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Sylvia Waters remembers the first performance of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Sylvia Waters describes The Juilliard School in New York City, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Sylvia Waters comments on her mentors at The Juilliard School in New York City, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Sylvia Waters describes her 1962 graduation from The Juilliard School in New York City, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Sylvia Waters describes her jobs after graduating from The Juilliard School in New York City, New York and joining the cast of "Black Nativity"

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Sylvia Waters talks about her experience living in Paris, France and auditioning for various film and theater productions

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Sylvia Waters talks about the collegial relationships among black performers in the mid-1960s

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Sylvia Waters talks about the black expatriates she met in Europe

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Sylvia Waters talks about meeting Josephine Baker

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Slating of Sylvia Waters' interview, session 2

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Sylvia Waters describes her time in Paris, France

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Sylvia Waters recalls meeting Langston Hughes

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Sylvia Waters talks about her role in 'Black Nativity'

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Sylvia Waters remembers the European tour of 'Black Nativity'

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Sylvia Waters describes how she was treated in Europe

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Sylvia Waters recalls her work with European dance companies

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Sylvia Waters talks about joining the Ballet of the 20th Century dance company in Brussels, Belgium

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Sylvia Waters describes her work with Donald McKayle's dance company

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Sylvia Waters talks about living in Paris, France

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Sylvia Waters remembers her experiences with racism in Portugal

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Sylvia Waters describes a racist American soldier in Portugal

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Sylvia Waters recalls labor strikes in Paris, France

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Sylvia Waters talks about her opportunities to join the Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Sylvia Waters talks about her performances in Mexico City during the 1968 Summer Olympic Games

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Sylvia Waters remembers being unexpectedly hired by Alvin Ailey

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Sylvia Waters recalls professional dancers at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Sylvia Waters recalls tension between the Portuguese and Angolan migrants

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Sylvia Waters recalls joining the Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Sylvia Waters talks about everyday life as a dancer

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Sylvia Waters describes the body types of dancers in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Sylvia Waters talks about artistic expression in dance

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Sylvia Waters remembers performance venues in New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Sylvia Waters recalls the disbandment of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Sylvia Waters recalls the U.S. Department of State's intervention on behalf of the Ailey Dance Company

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Sylvia Waters recalls the censorship of dance performances when traveling to the Soviet Union

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Sylvia Waters remembers her experiences touring in the Soviet Union

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Sylvia Waters talks about the Ailey American Dance Theater's return to New York City after touring globally

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Sylvia Waters remembers the birth of her son

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Sylvia Waters talks about her promotion to director of Ailey II

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Sylvia Waters recalls her participation in 'Ailey Celebrates Ellington'

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Sylvia Waters remembers touring with Ailey II

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Sylvia Waters recalls her feelings about transitioning to artistic director of Ailey II

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Sylvia Waters talks about directing 'Revelations'

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Sylvia Waters talks about the challenges of running Ailey II

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Sylvia Waters describes touring with Ailey II

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Sylvia Waters recalls the death of Alvin Ailey

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Sylvia Waters remembers the aftermath of Alvin Ailey's death

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Sylvia Waters describes the development of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Sylvia Waters talks about her oral history archival work

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Sylvia Waters recalls successful students trained at Ailey II

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Sylvia Waters recalls leaving the Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Sylvia Waters reflects on her legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Sylvia Waters shares her advice for aspiring dancers

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Sylvia Waters reflects upon her life

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$2

DAStory

3$11

DATitle
Sylvia Waters remembers the first performance of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Sylvia Waters talks about meeting Josephine Baker
Transcript
Okay. Now, at this time, were you aware that Alvin Ailey had formed his own dance company [Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater]?$$Well, in 1958, yes, that was the first performance and I saw the first performance. It was "Blues Suite." He did share that concert with another dancer, Ernest Parham, and, what I remember in particular in "Blues Suite" was "Mean Ole Frisco," a dance for five men and, I mean, "Blues Suite" underwent many incarnations, you know, until he reached the version that it is today, but in that early first version, I remember this singer, Brother John Sellers, and he was the blind man and he was walking through the crowd of dancers on the stage. I remember Jacqueline Walcott, but more than anything I remember "Mean Ole Frisco" and these five men dancing, I-- and such power. I had never seen men dancing like that, first of all, and "Blues Suite" also was very familiar to me; you know, all those summers in Virginia and blues music, because a lot of times you did have musicians coming through and at the juke joints down there; I mean, I wasn't supposed to be in them but sometimes my uncle took me or at the little movie house there would be gospel singers and blues singers performing and also those shows that traveled around. There was always an Indian, a clown, and a barker selling (laughter) snake oil or something and very often they would have blues singers with them. So, the blues was very much a part of my background, and I had a profound understanding of it, so that familiar connection was there from the beginning.$Did you meet-- ever meet Josephine Baker?$$I did. I went to see her perform at the Olympia and it was amazing. I had seen her in the states performing at Carnegie Hall [New York City, New York] before I ever went to Europe and that was one of the most wonderful experiences I've ever had, but when I saw her at the Olympia, that was, I mean I felt even closer to her. I've been a Francophile for a long time, you know, because I was a good French student. I thought I would a linguist. That was another thing I thought I might do. So, knowing French helped a lot, but when I saw her at the Olympia, and I went back stage because I knew someone who was in the show, and there was this person at the call board, these big, huge, thick glasses on this lady, and kind of a dress-type thing, and I said, "Excuse me, I'm looking for my friend so-and-so" and she said, "Oh, she's right down there, just down the hall." I said, "Okay, thank you." And that was Josephine Baker, and I just, I mean she was so different off stage, you know, and she's just a larger than life personage on stage, you know, and that big voice, and she was just beautiful, but offstage, she was this lady with these big, thick, Coke-bottle glasses on and, you know, and a dress and I think she had a turban on or a scarf on her head, and I was so, I said, "Oh, silly, you should have asked her for an autograph." I didn't realize it was she, you know. So, that was my "meeting."

Robert Battle

Dancer and choreographer Robert Louis Battle was born on August 28, 1972 in Jacksonville, Florida to Marie Battle. Three weeks after his birth, Battle was adopted by his great-uncle Willie Horne. He was raised by Horne and his daughter Dessie Horne. Battle started dancing in high school and graduated from the New World School of Arts in Miami, Florida. He went on to attend The Julliard School, where he graduated in 1994. Battle joined Parsons Dance Company where he performed and choreographed for the next seven years. During this time, Battle also choreographed his first piece for an Alvin Ailey Foundation dance company; the piece was entitled Mood Indigo and was performed by the Ailey II Company in 1999.

In 2001, Battle left Parsons to found Battleworks Dance Company, a company he directed for the next nine years. During this time, Battle developed a close relationship with the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, choreographing his first piece for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Juba , in 2003, and working alongside Judith Jamison and hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris to create Love Stories in 2004. He continued to provide material for the group and conduct workshops at the Alvin Ailey School from 2006 until 2008. In 2009, Battle’s work with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater culminated in the announcement by Judith Jamison, artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, that Battle would succeed her as the company’s artistic director in July of 2011.

Battle was named as one of the Masters of African American Choreography by the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in 2005, and has received numerous other awards for professional excellence. He has performed or choreographed for venues such as the Joyce Theater, the American Dance Festival, the Dance Theater Workshop, and the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.

Robert Battle was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 27, 2010.

Accession Number

A2010.107

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/27/2010

Last Name

Battle

Maker Category
Marital Status

Single

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Miami Northwestern Senior High School

New World School Of The Arts

The Juilliard School

Orchard Villa Elementary School

Georgia Jones-Ayers Middle School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Robert

Birth City, State, Country

Jacksonville

HM ID

BAT09

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Florida

Favorite Vacation Destination

Saratoga Springs, New York

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

8/28/1972

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Ribs

Short Description

Dancer and choreographer Robert Battle (1972 - ) was the third artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Employment

Parsons Dance Company

Battleworks Dance Company

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
0,0:2456,80:4808,109:5228,115:5732,125:8000,162:8840,175:9428,185:10268,197:10856,206:11360,213:11780,219:15812,275:16736,291:28055,381:33095,471:33935,485:35825,577:43160,609:45422,644:46280,657:46826,666:49244,728:49868,787:55094,881:55406,886:72045,1111:72425,1116:73755,1135:78794,1173:79403,1186:80795,1212:81578,1224:86501,1277:89322,1332:90141,1342:90687,1349:91324,1358:96783,1384:98239,1405:99968,1436:101970,1541:102698,1550:113060,1677$0,0:12525,169:18890,300:19650,310:20600,326:32872,389:44202,540:44734,552:45190,559:47404,572:48142,582:48880,593:51258,627:53718,655:60688,832:62164,856:62820,865:63148,870:71650,942:73900,990:74575,1000:78119,1036:86768,1123:87370,1134:87800,1141:91436,1175:94252,1215:95044,1225:100148,1289:106175,1337:107225,1361:107675,1368:110150,1437:115352,1465:115664,1470:116132,1477:118160,1525:118472,1530:119330,1543:119720,1549:120188,1556:120656,1565:121046,1571:124344,1593:125156,1610:127573,1641:130484,1706:134815,1846:142490,1879:142890,1885:145503,1904:147735,1942:148107,1947:153290,2003:154040,2020:154790,2030:158165,2088:158690,2097:159365,2108:160715,2132:161165,2139:163490,2181:164390,2199:164915,2208:166040,2236:166415,2242:166715,2247:169940,2314:176550,2422
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Robert Battle's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Robert Battle lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Robert Battle describes his family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Robert Battle recalls his early artistic interests

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Robert Battle describes his early education

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Robert Battle remembers his early church involvement

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Robert Battle recalls the Performing and Visual Arts Center program

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Robert Battle remembers the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Robert Battle recalls the Liberty City neighborhood in Miami, Florida

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Robert Battle describes his early aspirations and mentors

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Robert Battle reflects upon his career path

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Robert Battle recalls his scholarship to The Julliard School in New York City

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Robert Battle describes his first year at The Julliard School

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Robert Battle recalls his mentors at The Julliard School

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Robert Battle recalls his first involvement with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Robert Battle remembers his role at the Parsons Dance Company

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Robert Battle recalls becoming artistic director designate of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Robert Battle describes his direction for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Robert Battle talks about the role of tradition in dance

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Robert Battle describes his company, Battleworks Dance Company

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Robert Battle describes how African American culture influences his art

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Robert Battle talks about the dance community

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Robert Battle describes his current projects

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Robert Battle shares his advice to young dancers

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Robert Battle shares his mother's thoughts on his success

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Robert Battle describes his legacy and how he would like to be remembered

DASession

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DATape

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DAStory

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DATitle
Robert Battle describes his first year at The Julliard School
Robert Battle describes his direction for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Transcript
Juilliard [The Juilliard School, New York, New York] was extremely challenging, certainly, especially my, my first year. In fact, I, I wanted to leave Juilliard because, you know as a freshman in college, nobody knows anything and you know everything, that was me. And so, this was one of those mother moments. So I made a plan to leave Juilliard and I went home for one of the holidays, could have been Thanksgiving or whatever, and I talked to the dean at New World School of the Arts college and I said, "Listen, you know, I want to move back to Miami [Florida]," and he said, "Okay, we can help you do that," you know, "We'll give you a scholarship, money in your pocket, so you can do it." You see, I always figured my mother [Battle's second cousin, Dessie Horne Williams] was reasonable if you had a plan. If you could come and show her a plan, then she'd be okay with your decision. So I got my plan together. I got--came home, I said, "Listen," to my mother, who I've always called Dessalee, I've never called her mother, "Here's the plan. I'm going to leave Juilliard, come back home, I got a full scholarship at New World, it's all going to be great, no money out of your pocket, this will be wonderful," thinking she'd say, okay. She did say okay, she did also say, "But sometimes you might want to think about finishing things when you start them." I graduated Juilliard four years later, I won the Martha Hiller Prize, Martha Hill Prize [Martha Hill Prize for Outstanding Achievement and Leadership in Dance] and the Princess Grace Award [Princess Grace Statue Award] at that time. So, she is modest when she says she has nothing to do with my success.$Now you mentioned [HistoryMaker] Judith Jamison as a choreographer and Rennie Harris and other people, so anybody, you know, paying attention to what's going on now, if they expect you to just replicate Alvin Ailey, they're probably wrong, right? Is that true?$$Yes.$$Okay.$$Yes, and I think he, he would not expect that. I think that Judith Jamison would not expect that. I mean, I, I think, well I've gotten this label of being a maverick, I always thought it was a car but, anyway, but I've always done, or tried to do that in my own work. I've always tried to, to challenge myself and challenge the audiences but I got that from, again, my modest mother [Battle's second cousin, Dessie Horne Williams] who, I remember when I was, I used to improvise when I first started dancing. I would go in the back room and I'd put on some Michael Jackson or somebody like that, and I would, I would just improvise and she would always hear the music and one time she said, "Why don't you try classical music sometimes? You don't have to always do the same music." So I tried it; but, again, it was sort of pushing me to go outside of what I thought I was capable of. And so even in my own work, I choreographed to classical music, to the Indian music I was just talking about, to African drums, to, you know, it just, it's all over the place. As one audience member said, "From Bach [Johann Sebastian Bach] to bongos," you know, and I think that's a part of what some people like about my work and it's certainly a part of what interests me about making work, is about surprising people and making them hear things in a new way, you know, that is really a part of what I love about what I do.$$So do you think that's what the search committee saw in you or did they (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) I think so.$$First did that--$$I think so, I think they saw that I had, that, that, that that would be exciting and that, but it's also done with integrity, not just for the sheer sake of making people perk up but that because I really believe in that and that's what's going to take us into the future, is always staying curious, always keeping our finger on the pulse of what's happening now and what can happen in the future. So I think that perhaps that's what they saw and that's what Ms. Jamison saw in my work and in me, which is why she chose me [as artistic director for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater].

Homer Bryant

Dance founder and instructor Homer Bryant was born in the Virgin Islands on the Isle of St. Thomas in 1950 and became involved in dance in middle school. His teacher arranged for him to dance at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance School where he studied under some of the most prominent modern dance pioneers. Bryant then came to the attention of dancer and choreographer Arthur Mitchell, founder of the Dance Theater of Harlem, the first African American classical dance company in the United States. Mitchell extended an invitation to Bryant to come to New York and study with the company, which he accepted.

In 1972, Bryant began his professional career when he won an audition to replace a member of the company. He continued to dance and tour professionally with the Dance Theater of Harlem and took a hiatus in 1978 to perform in the Broadway musical Timbuktu! alongside Eartha Kitt. He also appeared in the film version of the musical The Wiz along with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. He then worked with Donald McKayle’s dance company and while on tour came to Chicago and danced briefly with Maria Tallchief’s Chicago City Ballet.

In 1981, Bryant returned to New York to oversee the Dance Theater of Harlem’s pre-professional workshop ensemble. Four years later, Bryant moved to Chicago to start his own dance company and school, Bryant Ballet. In 1993, Bryant began working with Cirque de Soleil, a relationship that continued for three of Cirque de Soleil’s most popular productions, Mystere, Alegria, and Quidam. Bryant also served as ballet master for the Joel Hall Dancers and Dance Chicago.

In 1997, in recognition of the school’s influence, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley issued a proclamation officially renaming Bryant’s school the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center. The next year, Bryant served as lead artist for the city of Chicago’s Gallery 37.

Bryant has received the Chicago Cultural Alliance’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He also was featured in the short documentary Raising the Barre: The Homer Bryant Story in 2009.

Homer Bryant was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 23, 2010.

Accession Number

A2010.102

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/23/2010

Last Name

Bryant

Maker Category
Marital Status

Widower

Schools

Saints Peter and Paul School

Erasmus Hall High School

Adelphi University

Chicago School of Massage Therapy

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Homer

Birth City, State, Country

Charlotte Amalie

HM ID

BRY04

Favorite Season

None

State

St. Thomas

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

The Fun Is In The Discipline. The Discipline Is In The Fun.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

3/29/1950

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

U.S. Virgin Islands

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

Dancer and dance instructor Homer Bryant (1950 - ) performed with the Dance Theater of Harlem and founded the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center.

Employment

Dance Theater of Harlem

Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center

Manhattan Festival Ballet

The Wiz

Timbuktu!

The Evolution of Jazz

Victoria Arts Collaborative

Chicago Public Schools Advanced Arts Program at Gallery 37

Chicago City Ballet

Favorite Color

Lavender, Purple

DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Homer Bryant's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Homer Bryant lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Homer Bryant describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Homer Bryant talks about his mother's personality

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Homer Bryant talks about his father's role in his life

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Homer Bryant describes his likeness to his maternal relatives

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Homer Bryant describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Homer Bryant describes the community on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Homer Bryant talks about the history of St. Thomas

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Homer Bryant describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Homer Bryant talks about the influence of Sidney Poitier

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Homer Bryant describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Homer Bryant describes the differences between the U.S. Virgin Islands and New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Homer Bryant talks about the television programs of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Homer Bryant recalls his early religious experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Homer Bryant remembers his early influences

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Homer Bryant recalls the start of his dance career

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Homer Bryant talks about the death of his first dance instructor

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Homer Bryant recalls his friendship with Eartha Kitt

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Homer Bryant remembers his decision to move to New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Homer Bryant describes the start of his ballet training

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Homer Bryant talks about Arthur Mitchell's ballet methods

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Homer Bryant describes teaching as a master

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Homer Bryant talks about modifying the classical ballet pedagogy

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Homer Bryant recalls joining the Dance of Theatre of Harlem

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Homer Bryant remembers the Dance Theatre of Harlem's debut performance

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Homer Bryant describes the influence of Cicely Tyson and Karel Shook

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Homer Bryant talks about touring with the Dance Theatre of Harlem

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Homer Bryant recalls his experiences at Adelphi University

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Homer Bryant remembers his performances outside of the Dance Theatre of Harlem

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Homer Bryant describes his favorite performances with the Dance Theatre of Harlem

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Homer Bryant talks about filming 'The Whiz'

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Homer Bryant recalls taking photographs on the set of 'The Wiz'

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Homer Bryant remembers performing in 'Timbuktu!' with Eartha Kitt

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Homer Bryant remembers learning about massage therapy

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Homer Bryant talks about his decision to move to Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Homer Bryant remembers his daughter's influence on his students

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Homer Bryant remembers meeting his wife

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Homer Bryant recalls leading the Dance Theatre of Harlem Workshop Ensemble

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Homer Bryant talks about his retirement from performance

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Homer Bryant recalls teaching dance courses at Gallery 37 in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Homer Bryant remembers his involvement with Cirque du Soleil

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Homer Bryant talks about combining ballet and hip hop dance techniques

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Homer Bryant talks about his reputation as a teacher

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Homer Bryant describes his documentary, 'Raising the Barre'

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Homer Bryant remembers his students

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Homer Bryant describes the location of the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Homer Bryant talks about the funding for black arts organizations

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Homer Bryant talks about his youth outreach

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Homer Bryant describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Homer Bryant talks about his aspirations for the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Homer Bryant reflects upon his life

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Homer Bryant talks about his family

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Homer Bryant talks about the death of his daughter

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Homer Bryant reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Homer Bryant describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Homer Bryant narrates his photographs