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

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Welcome to America, Mr. Trump

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Maria Kowroski in Balanchine’s “Mozartiana.” Photo copyright Erin Baiano and courtesy Dances Against Cancer.

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Sterling Hyltin and Amar Ramasa in Balanchine’s “Who Cares?” Photo copyright Erin Baiano and courtesy Dances Against Cancer.

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Alex Wong in Rachael Poirier’s “747.” Photo copyright Erin Baiano and courtesy Dances Against Cancer.

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Juilliard Dance students in Nijinska’s “Les Noces.” Photo copyright Rosalie O’Connor and courtesy Juilliard.

Story Copyright 2011, 2017 Harris Green
New Editor’s Note by & copyright Paul Ben-Itzak

(Editor’s Note, 1-31-2017: This piece, comprising reviews of performances by and of the Juilliard School, the School of American Ballet, American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, Venti Petrov’s “El Cid” — an epic tale which in part concerns Spain’s Christians *and* Muslims banding together to repel foreign *military* invaders — and a star-studded Dancers Against Cancer benefit with performances by Maria Kowroski, Daniel Ulbricht, Matthew Rushing, Alex Wong, Sterling Hytlin, Amar Ramasa, and others in work by Balanchine and others, was first published on June 24, 2011. Serendipitously re-viewing it this morning for inclusion in the DI Archives, I was struck by how both Harris’s text and the accompanying photographs, while neither written nor shot with this intent, formulate an eloquent aesthetic response to Donald Trump’s attempts to exclude from the United States a myriad of immigrants and refugees, beginning with an executive order last Friday. ((Among many other pictorial and textual elements in this story, following Mr. Trump’s logic, neither Stravinsky nor Balanchine, as citizens of a country besieged by Bolshevik terrorism, would ever have been admitted to France, let alone the United States.)) The new headline above, thus, as this note, are my entire responsibility and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of either the critic or the photographers. For continuing coverage of the national and international political, legal, and community response to Mr. Trump’s efforts, check out the daily broadcasts of Democracy Now.  — PBI)

NEW YORK — Because off-Broadway theater has long proved essential to this city’s artistic life, “off-Broadway dance” should not be considered a patronizing term for what is offered away from City Center and the gilded confines of Lincoln Center when major companies are between seasons. One reason I would hesitate to apply the term to recent spring offerings of the Juilliard School’s Dance Division, however, is that this institution’s renovated home, the Irene Diamond Building, is not only on Broadway but a stunning steel and glass addition to the neighborhood. Another is that the program “Juilliard Dances Repertory” (March 23-27), by including Bronislava Nijinska’s rarely seen but historically essential 1923 setting of the Stravinsky powerhouse “Les Noces,” made a stunning contribution to our artistic life out of all proportion to its occasionally raw, unflaggingly dedicated performance by 34 students. (For more on this ballet as interpreted by the Paris Opera Ballet, see Paul Ben-Itzak’s Flash, elsewhere in these DI Archives.)

To receive the rest of the article, subscribers can contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Dance Insider for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, dance company members, etc.) and receive full access to our Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2015. Just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check or in Euros. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $129 (institutions) Purchase before February 14, 2017 and receive a second, free copy for the recipient of your choice. Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com .