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Eleo Pomare

Choreographer and dancer Eleo Pomare was born on October 20 1937 in Santa Marta, Colombia. His father, Tawny Forbes, was the captain of a civilian freighter that was torpedoed near Colón, Panama during World War II. Pomare, at age six, who was with his father during the attack, survived and moved to live with his mother, Mildred Pomare Lee, in Panama. In 1947 Pomare was sent, alone, to New York City to live with an aunt and uncle who cared for him until some years later when his mother also moved to New York. He attended the New Lincoln School in Harlem, and later both P.S. #184 and James Fenimore Cooper Junior High School. At New York’s famed High School of Performing Arts, Pomare was mentored by Verita Pearson, and was exposed to such guest teachers as Uta Hagen and Martha Graham. While still a student, Pomare taught dance to other youth at the Police Athletic League (PAL). Soon, his pupils were performing at churches, schools and nearby Fort Dix. Moving into a building that housed Syvilla Fort’s studio near Town Hall, Pomare was exposed to the Durham technique by Walter Nicks and Talley Beatty. Graduating from the High School of Performing Arts in 1953, Pomare maintained his own dance company as he continued his training with Louis Horst, José Limón, Asadata Dafora, Pearl Reynolds and Curtis James. Pomare also befriended author James Baldwin, whose writing greatly influenced him.

In 1960, Pomare held his first major performance at the 92nd Street YMHA to favorable reviews. The following year he was awarded a John Hay Whitney Fellowship to study dance with Kurt Jooss in Essen, Germany. Pomare left the Jooss School and went on to reestablish the Eleo Pomare Dance Company, based in Amsterdam. He became a sensation in Europe. Using his own approach to choreography and teaching, he created his most celebrated works: Missa Luba, which combined the Catholic Mass with the music and voices of the Congolese Boys’ Choir; Blues for the Jungle, which depicted the history of African Americans from the earliest days of enslavement to the fight for equal rights in the 1960s; and Las Desenamoradas, which was inspired by Garcia Lorca’s play, The House of Bernarda Alba.

Over the years, Pomare received a number of dance fellowships including the aforementioned John Hay Whitney Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1972. The Eleo Pomare Dance Company toured North America, Europe, Australia, Asia, the Caribbean and Africa. They also performed in Lagos, Nigeria for FESTAC ’77, the World Festival of African Arts. Some of his featured dancers include Dudley Williams, Loretta Abbott, Al Perryman, Dyane Harvey, Charles Grant, Chuck Davis, Martial Roumain, Carl Paris, Leni Wylliams and Diana Ramos. In 1986, Pomare created Morning Without Sunrise, set to music by Max Roach, in honor of the heroism of Nelson Mandela.

In 1968, Pomare, along with Carole Johnson, Rod Rodgers, Gus Solomon and Pearl Reynolds, formed the Association of Black Choreographers and THE FEET, a black dance magazine. The Eleo Pomare Dance Company celebrated twenty-five years of dance in 1983, and January 7, 1987, was declared Eleo Pomare Day by the borough president of Manhattan, David Dinkins.

Pomare was a highly sought after teacher and choreographer until his death on August 8, 2008, at the age of 70.

Eleo Pomare was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 18, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.147

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/18/2007

Last Name

Pomare

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

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

P.S. 184

James Fenimore Cooper Junior High School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Eleo

Birth City, State, Country

Santa Marta

HM ID

POM01

Favorite Season

Summer

Favorite Vacation Destination

Anywhere Warm

Favorite Quote

I Ain't Doing That.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

10/20/1937

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

Colombia

Favorite Food

West Indian Food

Death Date

8/8/2008

Short Description

Choreographer and dancer Eleo Pomare (1937 - 2008 ) founded his own successful company in Amsterdam. He co-founded the Association of Black Choreographers and later THE FLEET, a black dance magazine.

Employment

Eleo Pomare Dance Company

R. H. Macy and Co.

Favorite Color

Black

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Eleo Pomare's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Eleo Pomare lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Eleo Pomare describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Eleo Pomare describes his father's background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Eleo Pomare describes the feud between his maternal and paternal families

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Eleo Pomare describes his mother's upbringing in San Andres, Colombia

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Eleo Pomare remembers his father's death

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Eleo Pomare describes how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Eleo Pomare describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Eleo Pomare describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Eleo Pomare describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Eleo Pomare recalls how he came to the United States

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Eleo Pomare remembers the Carnival in Panama

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Eleo Pomare describes Latin American dance and music

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Eleo Pomare describes the impact of African culture on Latin America

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Eleo Pomare describes his experiences upon arrival in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Eleo Pomare remmebers P.S. 184 in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Eleo Pomare describes his uncle's influence on his education

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Eleo Pomare recalls his relatives in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Eleo Pomare remembers the Harlem community

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Eleo Pomare reflects upon the influence of the church on his dance career

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Eleo Pomare remembers James Fenimore Cooper Junior High School in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Eleo Pomare recalls his woodshop class at James Fenimore Cooper Junior High School

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Eleo Pomare describes his decision to attend the High School of Performing Arts

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Eleo Pomare talks about teaching dance in New York City, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Eleo Pomare talks about teaching dance in New York City, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Eleo Pomare recalls African American dancers from his youth

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Eleo Pomare describes the High School of Performing Arts in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Eleo Pomare recalls his teachers at the High School of Performing Arts

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Eleo Pomare describes his volunteer work as a dance teacher in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Eleo Pomare describes his decision to leave his family home

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Eleo Pomare describes his relationship with his maternal family

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Eleo Pomare remembers seeing a performance by Talley Beatty

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Eleo Pomare recalls the African American dancers of his generation

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Eleo Pomare reflects upon the works of Pearl Primus and Katherine Dunham

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Eleo Pomare remembers his classmate, Arthur Mitchell

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Eleo Pomare describes the first Eleo Pomare Dance Company

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Eleo Pomare remembers his company's first performance in New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Eleo Pomare remembers obtaining a John Hay Whitney Foundation fellowship

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Eleo Pomare describes the Folkwang School of Music, Theatre and Dance in Essen, Germany

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Eleo Pomare describes the European Eleo Pomare Dance Company

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Eleo Pomare describes his decision to return to the United States, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Eleo Pomare describes his decision to return to the United States, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Eleo Pomare describes his dance piece, 'Missa Luba'

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Eleo Pomare recalls the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Eleo Pomare describes his dance piece, 'Blues for the Jungle'

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Eleo Pomare remembers performing "Junkie" from 'Blues for the Jungle'

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Eleo Pomare describes his dance piece, 'Las Desenamoradas'

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Eleo Pomare talks about his choreographic method

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Eleo Pomare recalls founding the Association of Black Choreographers, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Eleo Pomare recalls founding the Association of Black Choreographers, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Eleo Pomare reflects upon black choreographers

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Eleo Pomare reflects upon the cultural influences in his choreography

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Eleo Pomare talks about the Harlem Cultural Council Dancemobile

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Eleo Pomare describes his fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Eleo Pomare remembers the political climate of the late 1970s

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Eleo Pomare recalls the lack of funding for African American dance companies

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Eleo Pomare describes his dance piece, 'Morning Without Sunrise,' pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Eleo Pomare describes his dance piece, 'Morning Without Sunrise,' pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Eleo Pomare reflects upon his dance career

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Eleo Pomare reflects upon his teaching style

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Eleo Pomare recalls the members of the Eleo Pomare Dance Company

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Eleo Pomare remembers performing at the Adelaide Festival in Australia

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Eleo Pomare talks about contemporary dance companies

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Eleo Pomare describes his recent choreographic work

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Eleo Pomare describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Eleo Pomare reflects upon his life

Tape: 8 Story: 10 - Eleo Pomare talks about his family

Tape: 8 Story: 11 - Eleo Pomare describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$6

DAStory

1$4

DATitle
Eleo Pomare reflects upon the influence of the church on his dance career
Eleo Pomare remembers performing "Junkie" from 'Blues for the Jungle'
Transcript
I was close to so many places where I'm, I'm excited by music, the way Carnival, the music affected me, the, the parallel to it was the small churches or the churches in Harlem [New York, New York]. And at the time I didn't realize that I was really studying theater (laughter) by attend, by going to these places. I can remember at the corner, at the corner of a 125th Street [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard] was Daddy Grace Temple [Grace Temple, New York, New York] right there at the corner. And, and I used to visit Prophet Jones' [James F. Jones] small church. And mainly for, for the music, it's the music that attracted me. And a passion that, that is very difficult to define, the, the life, you know, that, that pushed you, (laughter) you know. And I wouldn't say it had anything to do with my beliefs, my [maternal] uncle [Barsabas Anab Pomare] had already influenced me when it came to the purpose of an Almighty and whatnot. But the sincerity, the humanness of what I saw in these places gave me some sense of, of the depth of emotion. It also prepared me for, for what I would make if, if I was an actor, what I would make if I was a painter. And the search would be to, to, to not be involved with the religion but to be involved with the ability to, to, to experience so deeply, so real, you know, to see people who actually feel. And the, the, that, I had, had really a phenomenal interest to me. And, of course, there were the five cents parties the grind sessions and all of that that you were forbidden to go to, red light, blue light parties and things of that nature.$$Yeah, the church experience, I mean, I, sounds a lot like, you ever read, read James Baldwin where he describes a little church where he was a, he was a, a boy pastor in the church and could (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Oh, oh, yes, James--$$He, he could make--$$James was a friend of mine.$$Yeah, okay.$$As a matter of fact, I often tell people that James Baldwin is the reason, had something to do with what, with my sitting where I am right now.$$Okay.$$You know, he--$$Did you meet him before you started dance, you know, dancing professionally, did you?$$Not before.$$Okay.$$See I lived in the village, Greenwich Village [New York, New York]. And at that time there used to be these afternoon soirees for the intellectual or the searching mind and whatnot. And I, I first met James at one of these affairs that was given by someone by the name of Lionel Mitchell who, who was a writer. He's written for the Amsterdam News [New York Amsterdam News], and the, the black newspapers.$I, for instance, when I started doing "Junkie" ['Blues for the Jungle,' Eleo Pomare], Judy Dearing said to me, "You will never be convincing because first of all, you're holding the joint improperly, no one holds a joint like that." You know, where I learned how to do "Junkie"? In back of the Apollo Theater [New York, New York]. It was a place called the Bucket of Blood [ph.] (laughter). A bar, and for several nights John Parks, a whole group of us, would do field work, until I learned from those guys who hung out in back of the Apollo, they got so they would do this to me (gesture) they would say hello. But I learned that you don't nod as if you've had many dance classes. Everything you learned about form and structure have to go out of the window because you're creating a different reality. And this thing was accurate. I can remember the premier of that, it was like all hell broke loose in the theater, (laughter) you know, it's like that (gesture). And when the dancers for the first time used the word it was like brand new, no one, no one, you know, come at you down the aisle going, "Hey, man, you, you wanna buy a joint (makes noise)?" And you realize someone is dying down there in the aisle. That's the theater I am in to. Along with the other craftsman type things that I've done. So what was interesting about that to me is, is the audience. You, you know, it's interesting to see an integrated audience look at it, and watch, it looks like mixture of people where everyone is going like (gesture). And then the middle class blacks, especially the ones out of the, not in the East, the southern middle class, "Why did you bring that dance to our theater? Why did you do this? That is only pushing us back decades. You should have, you, you know." What is pushing you back decades is your phoniness. And so it's, it is, it could have caused me great angst, great pain, you know, but you don't do something you believe and then apologize for it. So that was that.