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Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker

Dancer, choreographer, artist and educator Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker was born on August 9, 1947, in Sierra Leone, Africa. Caulker studied with the National Dance Company of Ghana at the University of Ghana, Legon, then returned to the United States.

In 1969, Caulker founded the Ko-Thi Dance Company after returning from Ghana. The company was created to develop, educate, showcase and preserve African, Caribbean and African American dance and music. In the beginning, the company’s entire repertoire was created by Caulker. However, through the years, she developed and nurtured veteran choreographer/dancers and musicians who now contribute into the repertoire. Over the past thirty years, Caulker has developed a cadre of commissioned works by master dancers and musicians from throughout the African Diaspora.

Caulker began teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1971, creating the University’s first courses covering African, Caribbean and African American dance technique and history. Caulker then became a full professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Dance Department.

Since 1981, Caulker and the Ko-Thi Dance Company have created major full length evening works, collaborating with various international artists from across world cultures, (East Indian, Irish), and cross disciplines, (Jazz and the spoken word), merging cross cultural forms such as the South African 'Boot Dance' and Tap. In 1995, Caulker received a Fulbright Research Fellowship, which allowed her to study in Tanzania, East Africa, for three months. While doing her own research, Caulker also taught at the University of Dar es Salaam, lectured children in the Arusha United African American Cultural Center and assisted a UWASA cultural group. In 1999, Caulker served on the Blue Ribbon Commission on the Arts in Education for the Wisconsin State Superintendent, and the following year, served for the National Endowment for the Arts 2000 Dance panel. She has proudly served on the Board of Directors of the Wisconsin Arts Board.

Accession Number

A2007.336

Sex

Female

Interview Date

11/30/2007

Last Name

Caulker

Maker Category
Middle Name

Yangyeitie

Organizations
Schools

Custer High School

Annie Walsh Memorial School

West Cornwall School for Girls

University of Wisconsin-Madison

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Ferne

HM ID

CAU01

Favorite Season

Fall, Summer

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

God Doesn't Give You Anything You Can't Handle.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Wisconsin

Birth Date

8/9/1947

Speakers Bureau Region City

Milwaukee

Country

Sierra Leone

Favorite Food

Crane-Crane, Cussava Leaf

Short Description

Choreographer, dance professor, and dancer Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker (1947 - ) was the founder and director of the Ko-Thi Dance Company. She began her teaching career at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1971, creating the University’s first courses that covered African, Caribbean and African American dance techniques and history.

Employment

Ko-Thi Dance Company

Favorite Color

Orange

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Ferne Yangyeiete Caulker talks about her maternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker recalls her early awareness of racial discrimination

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her father's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her paternal ancestry

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her father's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her father

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her father's education

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker recalls her early experiences in the United States

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her likeness to her father

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes the Sande initiation

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker remembers living with her maternal grandmother

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker talks about American attitudes toward African culture

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her early education

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker remembers Custer High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her early personality

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her early interest in dance

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker talks about Pearl Primus

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes the Katherine Dunham Company's legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker talks about the importance of history

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker recalls her courses at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker talks about her dance philosophy

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her dance training

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker recalls her dance experiences in Ghana

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker recalls visiting the Elmina Castle in Ghana, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Ferne Yangyeitie recalls visiting the Elmina Castle in Ghana, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker talks about South African dance traditions

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker remembers founding the Ko-Thi Dance Company

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker talks about African American dance companies

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes the Ko-Thi Dance Company's educational outreach

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes the growth of the Ko-Thi Dance Company

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker talks about gentrification in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her hopes for the black arts community

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker reflects upon the success of the Ko-Thi Dance Company

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker talks about discrimination in funding for the arts

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes Ko-Thi Dance Company's performances

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker reflects upon her life and legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her life philosophy

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

2$6

DATitle
Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes the Katherine Dunham Company's legacy
Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes the Ko-Thi Dance Company's educational outreach
Transcript
And then in comes [HistoryMaker] Katherine Dunham, and here is another black woman who now is the complete opposite from Pearl [Pearl Primus], light skinned, but who would not negotiate her colored-ness. Who said I'm light but I'm black and she went the Caribbean route, Haiti. Pearl went the African route with the 'Fanga' [Pearl Primus]. But these two women, I was stuck in the middle of the two of them. Looking at both of them going, my god, I can be all of this; I can be all of this. And then when I saw the academic level of the work they were doing, Katherine was writing grants and getting funded and writing articles and then now there is this huge amount of legacy this woman has left of her written works that go back to the '40s [1940s] and Pearl you know it just--. And then in steps Lavinia Williams, who was one of the dancers in Katherine's company and was her right hand. Lavinia became mu- became very accessible to me.$$Now was she--let's kind of put this in, I guess in the context of biography. When did, did you, when did you meet Katherine Dunham?$$I met Katherine--I had taken, the first time I had actually, actually really physically met her and got a chance to sit near her and take a class from her was at the--in East St. Louis [Illinois], when we did the--well there was a workshop down in East St. Louis and that's actually where I met the drummer Mor Thiam, who really helped us a lot with building the drum corps and gave us the training mechanism that we used on gym base in Ko-Thi Dance Company is Mor Thiam's technique.$$That's M-O-R capital T-H-I-A-M (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) T-H-I-A-M, um-hm. And she actually brought him from Senegal. So that's where I met Mor Thiam and, and took the workshop with Dunham and I was ju--$$Now about what year is that?$$That was like in the early '70s [1970s]--$$Okay.$$--mid-'70s [1970s].$$So, but you were inspired by her prior to--$$Yeah I was inspired by--$$--you became aware of her.$$--by Katherine from reading about her and then I got a chance to actually meet her. Then it was later on that I met Lavinia Williams and met a whole 'nother group of people who were actually--you know she was like their guru. Noel Hall [Noel Nantambu Hall] and Rima Pinnuck [ph.], Thomas Pinnuck [ph.], these were people in New York [New York] who were like studying with Lavinia because Lavinia learned all of the Dunham technique 'cause she was in the company [Katherine Dunham Company] but she branched off and started really doing a lot of the Haitian dance form and started teaching it and became known as a specialist in Haitian dance. And then Noel Hall studied with her, in fact she pretty much gave him all of her knowledge before she passed, and we then commissioned Noel Hall to come to Milwaukee [Wisconsin] and he choreographed a--we call it 'Suite Lavinia,' S-U-I-T-E, but S-W-E-E-T Lavinia. And it's a whole, it's a whole show that's forty-five minutes long of just the Haitian dance pantheon and he gave that all to us. So we have the lineage now through the choreography and the repertoire of--from Noel, from Lavinia to Katherine, Haiti, you know.$How did you form, how did assemble your dancers? Were the people already here involved in African dance on some level, or did you have to train them all from scratch or how did you do it?$$It was both, it was both. I, I, I started off the way most dance companies start off is you have somebody who's, who is a teacher who has an idea for a philosophy and a concept, starts throwing down some classes. And then the natural progression out of the classes is you take the students who are in your classes and you put together some kind of mini-show. And what happened with Ko-Thi [Ko-Thi Dance Company] was very simple actually. I'm like actually stunned sometimes when I think about it because there was no plan per se until ten years after we'd been working--that's when I made a conscious decision to turn it into a real serious dance company, okay. But the first ten years really we started just doing shows and people would see the shows and say you know we want you guys to come to our school and our educational outreach was what the company became, was an educational tool and put together a format that we're still using that we call Drumtalk. This format has great flexibility in terms of what it can do in a school, in terms of going into geography. We've had residencies in schools that would just blow your mind in terms of we'll go in and talk to the principal and the principals and the teachers will decide that you know this whole week that you all are here we're going to focus on Africa. We went one time to a school where each room--each classroom took a part of Africa, and that's all they focused on, and then we came in and did the whole movement thing, and it was awesome because you walk down the halls and--. I mean from the minute you entered the school it was Africa for the whole week. To me that was when a light went on for me. This was twenty years ago 'cause we're thirty-eight years old now so that's twenty, thirty years ago. We do social science, geography, history, music, song, dance and fitness and health and learning group work dynamics. How, how to work with one and other, how to, how to see yourself in space you know what I'm saying 'cause that's a whole different way of communicating in the world when you learn dance as a form in a classroom because it teaches you how to negotiate space. And that's really important in the workplace, you know. So if you never danced again in your whole life you go into a job you have to learn how to negotiate space, boundaries. How do you work with other people who are different from you, how do you communicate you know to other people? The arts teach that, that's the benefit of that, so it's for everybody. And so that's, that's was the essence of Ko-Thi Dance Company. So to preserve, promulgate, teach and give children experience and audiences and experiences--that's two-pronged, one is the actual physical experience in class the second one is the experience as an audience because those two things have to occur, you know. And it's the audience building that is the hardest you know for our community, for those of us who are in these forms.

Louis Johnson

Director and choreographer Louis Johnson was born on March 19, 1930, in Statesville, North Carolina, but moved with his parents to Washington, D.C., at an early age. Although Johnson became quickly known in the Washington, D.C., school system for his outstanding artistic talents, he also developed a strong following for his gymnastic and dancing talents. In high school, he enrolled and trained at the Jones Haywood School of Dance, where he and such notable students as Chita Rivera blossomed under the tutelage of Doris Jones and Clair Haywood.

After being advised to move by his teachers to New York City, Johnson found himself at the famed New York City School of American Ballet, where he was mentored by Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine. These associations led directly to a performance with the New York City Ballet Company and then on to Broadway shows such as Four Saints in Three Acts, House of Flowers (choreographed by George Balanchine), Damn Yankees (by Bob Fosse) and Hallelujah Baby. His public acclaim in these Broadway performances led to an offer to choreograph his ballet, Lament for the New York City Ballet Club. That success, in turn, led to him receiving an offer to choreograph the Broadway production Black Nativity by Langston Hughes. Johnson also choreographed Lost in the Stars, Treemonisha and Purlie, for which he received a Tony nomination.

Johnson has received the great acclaim for choreographing operas performed by the New York Metropolitan Opera. Those operas include La Giaconda, starring Martina La Rowa and Aida, which starred Leontyne Price. In movies, he choreographed Cotton Comes to Harlem and The Wiz, starring Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. In addition to his work in New York City, Johnson has mounted ballets for the Cincinnati Ballet, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, the Joffrey Ballet, Philadanco Dance Company, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and the Atlanta Ballet Company. In 1980, he started Henry Street Settlement’s Dance Department in New York City. He continued to work there until 2003. He also taught the first Black theatre course at Yale University and started Howard University’s Dance Department in Washington, D.C.

Johnson’s honors include: the Pioneer Award from the International Association of Blacks in Dance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.; an honor from the California chapter of the NAACP for his work with the original Negro Ensemble Company; and a special night honoring him from Ashford and Simpson. His directorial credits include Porgy and Bess, Miss Truth, Jazzbo Brown, Time in the Wind and Ebony Game.

Accession Number

A2005.134

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/9/2005

Last Name

Johnson

Maker Category
Organizations
Schools

Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson

Garrison Elementary School

Armstrong Technical School

School of American Ballet

Dunham School of Dance and Theater

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Louis

Birth City, State, Country

Statesville

HM ID

JOH21

Favorite Season

Fall

State

North Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

Harlem, New York

Favorite Quote

Holding on.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

3/19/1930

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Potatoes (White)

Short Description

Ballet dancer, dance professor, and choreographer Louis Johnson (1930 - ) has choreographed for the stage in, "Damn Yankees," and, "Hallelujah Baby," and for screen in, "The Wiz," and, "Cotton Comes to Harlem." In 1980, he started Henry Street Settlement’s Dance Department in New York City. He also taught the first black theater course at Yale University, and started Howard University’s dance department in Washington, D.C.

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Louis Johnson interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Louis Johnson's favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Louis Johnson talks about his mother's background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Louis Johnson remembers his grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Louis Johnson discusses his elementary school years

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Louis Johnson describes his early involvement in dance

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Louis Johnson talks about his father's background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Louis Johnson recalls influential dance teachers

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Louis Johnson remembers classmates in dance school

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Louis Johnson remembers his first dance job

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Louis Johnson discusses an early appearance on Broadway

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Louis Johnson talks about the cast of 'House of Flowers'

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Louis Johnson remembers his involvement in 'Damn Yankees'

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Louis Johnson recalls close friends from his early days on Broadway

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Louis Johnson comments on young dancers of today

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Louis Johnson recalls experiences in the motion picture 'Damn Yankees'

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Louis Johnson details his transition into choreography

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Louis Johnson talks about various choreography work

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Louis Johnson mentions students from Howard University' dance program

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Louis Johnson remembers choreographing 'Purlie'

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Louis Johnson mentions various successes from his choreography career

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Louis Johnson describes his approach to new projects

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Louis Johnson talks about facing discrimination

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Louis Johnson discusses different types of entertainers he's worked with

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Louis Johnson explains applying his style to various projects

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Louis Johnson details various performers he's worked with over the years

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Louis Johnson remembers working in Atlanta and Harlem

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Louis Johnson explains his involvement with the Negro Ensemble Company

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Louis Johnson recalls his career with Henry Street Settlement

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Louis Johnson talks about projects of which he's most proud

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Louis Johnson talks about Howard University's dance department

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Louis Johnson describes the career of Debbie Allen

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Louis Johnson remembers choreographing 'Treemonisha' to Broadway

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Louis Johnson discusses various productions he's choreographed

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Louis Johnson details his involvement with 'The Wiz'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Louis Johnson recalls various awards he's received

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Louis Johnson talks about his directorial credits

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Louis Johnson talks about 'The Ebony Game'

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Louis Johnson discusses his involvement in 'MissTruth'

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Louis Johnson shares his thoughts on 'Jazzbo Brown'

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Louis Johnson remembers the production 'Time and the Wind'

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Louis Johnson further discusses 'Miss Truth'

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Louis Johnson tells of giving exposure to lesser-known performers

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Louis Johnson comments on various performers he's worked with

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Louis Johnson talks about dealing with racism during his early years

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Louis Johnson reflects on his career

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Louis Johnson tells of the importance of black history

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Louis Johnson considers his legacy

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$2

DAStory

6$7

DATitle
Louis Johnson describes his early involvement in dance
Louis Johnson details his transition into choreography
Transcript
You started developing your movement abilities in elementary school. Tell us about being in the second and third--well, as much you remember--?$$Well, I used to tap dance.$$--and the acrobatics?$$I tap danced around with my acrobatics, and there was a gentleman named Derwood Brent (ph.) and Melvin Hope (ph.) that tap danced. And Derwood Brent was in charge of the New Faces Guild [NOT FOUND]. There was a thing in Washington [D.C.] called The New Faces Guild that Ralph Matthews started. He gave a show like once a year at the Lincoln Theatre, which was the only theater that black people could go to. And he would give a production every year, a fantastic production, tap dancing, comedians and beautiful show girls and all that kind of thing. So I--and Melvin Hope was another young man and Miles Conte (ph.), and they would tap dance in the shows. I was too young to, but they would let me tap with them around on the street. So I would tap on the street with them and some time I got older enough to be in some of those shows. And that's how I began to dance around. And I always did acrobatics with Nipsey Russell, Nipsey had a great tumbling team. You could never say enough about this man. You didn't know what he was doing then, but he was a great, great acrobat, like you see in the circus. And he taught the young kids to do that.$$Now, was he teaching you at that YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association]?$$At the YMCA and the streets. And that's how I got involved with dance. The YMCA was being renovated, so the YWCA [Young Women's Christian Assocation] let us use their place. And Jones and Haywood, the ladies who found in me as a dancer, who introduced me to dancing professionally was teaching there. And they saw us rehearsing at the YWCA, and they saw me stretching around and doing that stuff. And they were very impressed, so they offered me a scholarship in formal dancing at the Y, you know, and I, I said, I'd love to. And that's how it all started with me dancing.$$Now, tell us about the dance team that began teaching you? Just give us some more details and some--?$$Doris [W.] Jones and Claire [Helen] Haywood?$$Yes.$$They were two wonderful ladies that taught ballet. And they thought I would be able to do that well, seeing me stretch and carry on. So they invited me to take some classes at their school and gave me a scholarship and cleaning up their house like once a week. And I'd come and take dance classes there, and I did. And it introduced me to ballet and formal dancing properly. And I fell in love with it, but I kept my tumbling going on, and that's how I got involved with dance; came to New York [New York]. They sent me to New York City to the School of American Ballet. That's George Balanchine's school at the time; the finest training in ballet you could get anywhere in the world. And I went on, carried on.$Let's, let's go on to 'Hallelujah Baby' [1967], that followed your ascent there?$$'Hallelujah Baby' I wasn't dancing. No, I hadn't danced in a little while. And I was asked to come into that cause I--they knew who, they knew of my--the young man that choreographed it, Kevin Carlisle, I did the first 'Modern Jazz Quartet' thing, I had used him as a dancer because he even became a cari--choreographer. And he'd become a choreographer for the 'Garry Moore Show' [television program], and he had choreographed 'Damn Yankees', and he was replacing somebody. Well, he needed a standby, and one name leads to another. And a lot of people knew of my name, and they recommended me highly. And I became the standby in that.$$Okay.$$That means if somebody's out, you go in their place. And I stood in for Alan Weeks and another young man, I'm--Winston [DeWitt] Helmsley. They were called 'Tip and Tap', and they had a specialty number in there. And I was on all the time. I said, Oh, Lord, at least I'll get a chance to rest. Every time you look around, they say, Louis, get ready, get in your costume cause you're on tonight. So that--.$$So that way, you were quickly moving from being a dancer to being a choreographer? And your first ballet was 'Lament'?$$Yeah.$$And how did that come about?$$Well, that was at the YMCA, YM-YWHA [Young Men's-Young Women's Hebrew Association]. I had done a solo that was, that--called 'Harlequin', which I used my acrobatics and dancing in it. And it was outstanding. And I forget the man's name. How can I forget this man--he was a great producer of, of artists. And he recommended that I would be on a show that they did on Broadway. They used to do a show on Broadway where they used a lot of very fine talent to show them, to ex--to show their talent. And he insisted that they did solo 'Harlequin' of mine. And I forget this man's name. I'll think of it. He was a great, great, great impresario at that time. He--and that's how it started.$$Okay.$$My 'Lament' [1965], you're talking about 'Lament'?$$Right.$$Yeah.$$Right.$$Well, also during that, the man who--I said made me do 'Harlequin' also was named Mr. Koreff. I remember him. He was Nora Kaye's father. Nora Kaye was a great big ballerina at that time. And he gave this thing called 'New York City Ballet Club' every year. And he insisted I do a piece. So I, I did a piece called 'Lament' that I had heard the music of Bachiana Brasileira of Villa-Lobos. So I did that, and it was a big success at the Y. Then I began to do ballets. They, they, they liked it, the audiences did, and people did and talked--it was the talk--.