Black Presence Website Bios
Arthur Mitchell is the artistic director
of the Dance Theatre of Harlem. An educator, choreographer, and dancer,
Mitchell made history in 1955 when he joined George Balanchine's New
York City Ballet, becoming the first African American principal dancer
of a major ballet company. In 1968, in response to the death of Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. a year earlier, Mitchell, along with Karel Shook,
his teacher and mentor, founded Dance Theatre of Harlem as a school
of the arts and professional ballet company. In 1993, Mitchell became
one of the youngest recipients of a Kennedy Center award for his lifetime
of extraordinary contributions to American culture through the performing
Alvin Ailey was born January 5, 1931,
and is one the world's most famous and influential choreographers. After
studying with Katherine Dunham, Lester Horton, Martha Graham and other
dance teachers, he founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre in
1958. The Ailey Company soon gained world renown and became the first
American dance company to tour the Soviet Union in 50 years. His most
famous piece, Revelations, was inspired by and reflects black spirituality.
Ailey died December 1, 1989, from AIDS related illness.
Dr. Pearl Primus was born in Port of
Spain, Trinidad. She had aspirations to become a physician, but a student
work program led her to the field of dance. Her journey in the dance
world began when she became an understudy in a dance group. Dr. Primus
made her mark in the dance world with dances based in West African culture
and dances that protested social injustices in the lives of African
American people. She made pieces that dealt with the struggles of sharecroppers,
lynching, and even the Birmingham, Alabama church bombings. She was
one of the first African American dancers to receive positive reviews
from dance critics, and her work has helped to inspire many dancers
all over the world.
Jawole Willa Jo Zollar was born in Kansas
City, Missouri. Like many artists, she was influenced by Dianne McIntyre.
She studied at McIntyre's school, Sounds in Motion, for several years.
Zollar formed her own company, Urban Bush Women, which uses spoken word,
music and dance to present cultural experiences of African diasporic
peoples in its performances.
Garth Fagan was born in Jamaica in 1940
and began his dance training with Jamaica National Dance Theater during
his early teens. Fagan studied with Jose Limon, Alvin Ailey, and Martha
Graham after moving to the United States for college. After directing
the All-City Dance Company in Detroit, Michigan, Fagan began his own
company, The Bottom of the Bucket, But… Dance Theatre, in 1970.
The group, now known as Garth Fagan Dance, is world-renowned for the
innovative works of Fagan. Mr. Fagan is a distinguished professor at
the State University of New York at Brockport as well as the winner
of a 1998 Tony Award for his choreography for The Lion King.
Katherine Dunham, dancer, choreographer, humanitarian, scholar and author, earned her bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University or Chicago. After receiving her degree, Dunham traveled through the Caribbean studying dance and culture. She is well known for the school she established in New York City, her touring company, and the dance technique she created. After she closed her school and dismantled her company, Dunham relocated to East St. Louis, to head a dance program for Southern Illinois University. For the last thirty years, Dunham has remained in East St. Louis, where she established the Katherine Dunham Center for Arts and Humanities. At age 94, she continues to teach and is currently writing another volume of her autobiography.