Category Archives: ART 459

ART 459 PROJECT 2 Les Miserables














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Katherine Dunham

            Katherine Dunham was born on June 22, 1909 in Illinois. When she was young she became interest in writing and dance. In high school, Dunham entered a club of modern dance. Katherine moved to attend the University of Chicago where she got interested in the African culture and start focusing on African dances.  During her college years she taught young children to dance.

She became to be an American dancer, choreographer and director of her own dance company. Dunham is one of the most successful people in the dance career. She went on a voyage around the Caribbean starting with Jamaica to study dance forms and ending in Haiti. In Haiti, she focused on Vodun dance rituals for her research. Years later she became a mambo, which is a priestess, in Vodun religion. She returned to Chicago in 1936 and graduated in social anthropology. Dunham submitted a thesis in 1938: “The Dances of Haiti: A Study of their Material Aspect, Organization, Form, and Function.” But she never completed it because she became aware that she would have to choose between dance or anthropology research. As we all know she chose to continue with dance and went on to go to Broadway.

During here college years she was also starting studying ballet. Through her ballet teachers, she was also exposed to Spanish, East Indian, Javanese, and Balinese dance forms. When she was 21 Dunham formed a group called Ballets Nègres, one of the first black ballet companies in the United States. This group broke apart and only performed once. She was encouraged to focus more on modern dance so she decided to open her first dance school called Negro Dance Group to teach about African heritage. She reunited the Ballets Nègres and went to New York to perform during this time is when she created two of here famous works the Rara Tongo and Woman with a Cigar.

Katherine at this time met designer John Pratt, who know later on became her husband. John Pratt was a Canadian who had become one of America’s most renowned costume and theatrical designers. Together the produced a dance based on her research she had done in the Caribbean’s. In 1949, she returned to New York because she was invited to stage a performance, which was long running. The success in New York led her company to be engaged in the Broadway production of the Cabin in the Sky. After the tour of the Cabin in the Sky, Katherine Dunham’ company ended up staying in Los Angeles. She appeared in Paramount musical films Later she returned again to New York and created a show with Latin American and Caribbean dances, plantation dances, and American social dances, which was an immediate success. Because the show was so popular they ended up going on tour of the United States and Canada. After the tour she went back to Broadway. She also went to Mexico and Europe. In Europe she was a big and immediate sensation. Dunham’s company appeared in some thirty-three countries in Europe, North Africa, South America, Australia, and East Asia. The company ended their international tours in Vienna in 1960, when it was stranded without money. Dunham saved the day by booking a performance in a German television special, which they then ended up returning to America.

In 1967, she official retired after presenting a final shoe in Harlem, New York. Katherine Dunham on May 21, 2006 at age 96.