“Stormy Weather” with La Dunham & friends at the Museum of Modern Art

dunham moma smallAmong the under-projected classics screening April 18 – 26 at the Museum of Modern Art for Making Faces on Film: A Collaboration with BFI Black Star is the 1943 all-star extravaganza “Stormy Weather,” featuring Lena Horne and Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson (above), Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, Dooley Wilson, the tap-flying Nicholas Brothers, Katherine Dunham and her Troupe, and just about every other major African-American performer of the epoch. Directed by Andrew L. Stone, the movie was meant to help the recruiting effort among African-Americans. The MoMA mini-festival celebrates the legacy of African-American artists working both within and outside the mainstream film industry. Image: Film Study Center Special Collections, The Museum of Modern Art.


From the Archives: Dunham La Grande

By Donald McKayle & Francis Mason
Copyright 2006 Donald McKayle & Francis Mason

First published on the Dance Insider on May 23, 2006, on the occasion of Katherine Dunham’s death. From the DI Archives of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading dance critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2016, plus five years of the Jill Johnston Letter and trail-blazing reporting and commentary on the leading dance news of the era. Want more? You can purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $99 (institutions) Purchase by March 22, 2017 and receive a second, free copy for the recipient of your choice. Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com .

As a young teen growing up in New York City, I first came across Katherine Dunham while walking through the Broadway theater district perusing the posters and billboards of attractions at the various theaters. At the Belasco I was captured by the picture of a striking woman dancing in a gossamer dress. Katherine Dunham and her troupe of dancers, musicians, and singers were performing in Bal Negre. I purchased a balcony seat for $4.80 and went up to see a performance that would change my life and mark the beginning of my career in dance. Over the past ten years we have met and discussed several projects. Miss Dunham was a powerful force and I will always be indebted to her brilliance as an artist, a scholar, and an humanitarian. — Donald McKayle

I shall never forget Katherine Dunham in “Cabin in the Sky,” the musical Balanchine staged in New York in 1940. The devilish stunning Dunham and her dancing alongside the holier-than-thou radiance of Ethel Waters set the world on fire. When I interviewed her in 1990 with Dawn Lille for my book “I Remember Balanchine,” Dunham recalled how Balanchine came to Chicago to see her and her girls and invited them to come to New York to be in the musical. She recalled how she worked with Balanchine, how he loved her girls and how at the try-out in Boston she was censored for her bare navel in the Egyptian ballet. Her husband put a yellow diamond in her navel and the show went on. Dunham also recalled that after the show opened in New York Balanchine and the composer of “Cabin in the Sky,” Vernon Duke, used to come to her place all the time. Once they brought Stravinsky. Balanchine persuaded Stravinsky to compose a tango for her, which he did. He autographed it. “I’ve never done it,” she said, “I keep thinking I must find it. I don’t think anyone has done it.” — Francis Mason


As Jean Cocteau demonstrated — by having the same actor morph from the Beast into the Prince in his 1946 film version of the fairy tale, both adroitly and equally embodied by Cocteau’s muse Jean Marais — “The Beauty and the Beast” is as much about the beheld as the beholder, and her power to see and perceive beyond appearances. Jeanne Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s eternal tale of spiritual clairvoyance and connivance gets another reading starting tomorrow night at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art from NYC nouveau cabaret legend Julie Atlas Muz and her real-life partner London cabaret and side-show artist Mat Fraser. (And who unfortunately do not credit de Beaumont, at least in the MoCA press release. Creative sources matter; the phantasmagorical wasn’t born with Julie Atlas Muz.) Joined by a pair of marionettists from the UK theater company Improbable, they draw on song, dance, puppetry, shadow-play, and custom-made prosthetic arms for Fraser (born with phocomelia). Directed by Phelim McDermott, the show is also performed December 4, 8, and 11. A “relaxed performance” December 9 will, according to the PR, foster “a welcoming environment for people with learning disabilities and/or sensory communication impairments,” as pertains to “noise and movement in the seating area” and with “modified house lighting and sound.” The artists will lead a workshop on December 10, and Fraser will take part in a free discussion on sexuality in the disabled community on December 11. Bronwen Sharp photo courtesy Chicago MoCA.


Moira Shearer in Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger’s 1948 “The Red Shoes.” (1948). Courtesy MGM

By Harris Green
Copyright 2008, 2016 Harris Green

Originally published on December 18, 2008. Frederick Wiseman’s latest documentary profiles the New York neighborhood of Jackson Heights.

NEW YORK — Those New Yorkers who immodestly presume they live in the Dance Capital of the World had, for a few weeks this fall at least, good reason to believe they were living in the Dance Movie Capital of the World. On November 4, the ever-reliable SoHo triplex Film Forum broke the long drought of motion pictures about ballet by presenting the U.S. theatrical premiere of Frederick Wiseman’s 2-hour, 38-minute documentary, “La Danse: The Paris Opéra Ballet,” then showing two days later a gloriously re-mastered print of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s beloved 1948 high-camp classic, “The Red Shoes.” New Yorkers had been subsisting on such parched fare as Robert Altman’s “The Company” (2003), which even Altman seemed to have lost interest in before it was finished, and Nicholas Hytner’s “Center Stage” (2000), which sank under the dead weight of clichés. (Eight years passed before anyone risked a sequel, “Center Stage: Turn It Up,” and that one went direct to DVD.) Stephen Daldry’s “Billy Elliot” (2000) shouldn’t count because it painted a truer picture of Mrs. Thatcher’s England than it did of a dance class. Not surprisingly, Film Forum found itself besieged by capacity crowds for both ‘Shoes,’ which ended its scheduled two-week run on November 19, and “La Danse,” which is in its sixth week as this report is filed, and has since opened in Los Angeles and Chicago.

Our ballet-challenged film reviewers spent much of their space hailing Wiseman for his 40-year career as an objective observer who never editorializes and scrupulously exercises his considerable power as film editor. He was duly hailed for these qualities in “La Danse,” his 35th documentary (there have been two fiction films), but no movie reviewer I read prepared balletgoers for what Wiseman captures as his camera roams the corridors, stairwells, studios and stages of the Palais Garnier for 12 weeks (in the fall of 2007). Some of the world’s most gifted and beautiful dancers are shown stuck in a predominantly Eurochic repertory that debases their artistry as heedlessly as it wastes their energy, yet the ever-objective Wiseman doesn’t seem either bothered by or aware of it.

For a New Yorker, a year of POB’s assiduously advanced, flavor-of-the-month fare would be as enervating as attending a City Ballet season devoted almost entirely to Diamond Project commissions.

To get the rest of the article, including a new introduction by Paul Ben-Itzak, subscribers please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at artsvoyager@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Complete articles are $5 or three for $10; contact Paul. Subscribe to the Dance Insider for just $29.95/year ($119 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, dance company members, etc.) and receive full access to our Dance Insider Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading dance critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2015. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $129 (institutions) Contact Paul at artsvoyager@gmail.com .