Louis Johnson’s passing marks the end of an era in Black dance. Johnson was the last of the of his generation of 20th century American choreographers of African descent and International renowned. His contemporaries, Alvin Ailey, Talley Beatty, Geoffrey Holder, Donald McKayle, and Arthur Mitchell, all forged through the restrictive Jim Crow era of hatred and segregation; that unfortunately included the arts- and dance.Continue reading
Appalachian Spring premiered on October 30th, 1944, at the Library of Congress, Coolidge Auditorium in Washington DC, with Martha Graham dancing the lead role. Created during the darkest days of War World II Graham wanted to create inspiring art that came out of the American experience. Graham spoke of the work, “To be great art… it must belong to the country in which it flourishes, not be a pale copy of some art form perfected by another culture and another people”.Continue reading
Dancer, choreographer and director Louis Johnson passed away he was 90 years old. Born March 19, 1930 in Statesville, North Carolina Johnson’s parents moved to Washington D.C. and he became a standout in the D.C. school system for his artistic and gymnastic abilities. While in high school Johnson enrolled and trained at the Jones Haywood School of Dance, where he blossomed under the tutelage of Doris Jones and Clair Haywood.
Johnson moved to New York City and continued his dance training at the famed New York City School of American Ballet, where he was mentored by Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine. Johnson performed on Broadway in Four Saint in Three Acts, House of Flowers (George Balanchine choreographer) Damn Yankees (Bob Fosse) and Hallelujah Baby. The success of one of his early choreographic works Lament for the New York City Ballet Club led to offers to choreograph the Broadway production of Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity. This lead to additional theatrical productions including Lost In The Stars, Treemonisha and Purlie, which garnered Johnson a Tony Award nomination.
Johnson choregraphed La Giaconda (starring Martina La Rowe) and Aida (starring Leontyne Price) for the New York Metropolitan Opera. Johnson also choreographed two motion pictures the 1970 Cotton Come To Harlem and The Wiz starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. Johnson never lost his love for concert dance choreographing for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Joffrey Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, Philadanco and the Nanette Bearden Contemporary Dance Theater. In 1980 Johnson started the dance department at the Henry Street Settlement (New York City), where he remained until 2003. He also taught the first Black theater course at Yale University and stated dance department at Howard University (D.C.). His directorial credits include Porgy and Bess, Miss Truth and Jazzbo Brown.
Lark Ascending set to Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending- Romance for Violin and Orchestra with choreography by Alvin Ailey. The ballet made both its company and world premiere at New York City Center during the 1972 season. Continue reading
Stormy Weather is a 1943 film musical produced and released by 20th Century Fox. The movie is considered one of the best Hollywood musicals with an all African-American cast and serve to showcase of some of the top African-American performers of the time.Continue reading
Talley Beatty choreographed and performed Mourner’s Bench in 1947. It represents the anguish and loss for former slaves, now free men, killed during the Reconstruction Era at the beginning of the rise of the Klu Klux Klan. Beatty explained to me, “People were murdered by the Klan and at daybreak their relatives would find their bodies in the fields still covered in the morning dew.”
Donald McKayle’s 1959 masterwork, Rainbow Round My Shoulder, is acclaimed as a modern dance classic. A searing dramatic narrative, it is set on a chain gang in the American south where prisoners work, breaking rock from “can see to can’t see.” Their aspirations for freedom come in the guise of a woman, first as a vision then as a remembered sweetheart, mother, and wife. The songs that accompany their arduous labor are rich in polyphony and tell a bitter, sardonic, and tragic story. It was created for the Donald McKayle Dance Company, and has been in the repertoire of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Batsheva Dance Company and Dayton Contemporary Dance, among others. The cast in the video excerpt includes Donald McKayle and Mary Hinkson.Continue reading
Geoffrey Holder’s Banda dance debuted in the 1954 Truman Capote/Harold Arlen musical House Of Flowers. Holder the Baron of The Cemetery (based on the Haitian Loa of Death Baron Samedi) received both a performer and choreographer credit in the program. The Broadway musical takes place somewhere in the West Indies during Mardi Gras weekend.Continue reading