Germaine Acogny is Senegalese and French in origin and founded her first dance studio in Dakar in 1968. Thanks to the influence of the body movements she inherited from her grandmother, a Yoruba priest, and to her study of traditional African and Occidental dances (classic and modern), Acogny has given birth to her own dancing technique. Between 1977 and 1982 she was director of Mudra Afrique (Dakar), created by Maurice Béjart and the president L.S. Senghor. Once Mudra Afrique closed, she moved to Brussels to work with Maurice Béjart’s company and organized international African dance workshops, which had great success among the European audience. She repeated this experience later in Africa. In 1980, she wrote a book titled African Dance, which has been translated into three languages. In 1995, she decided to go back to Senegal, with the aim of creating an International Centre for Traditional and Contemporary African Dances. The center would serve as a meeting point for dancers coming from Africa and from all over the world, and a place of education that would guide dancers towards a contemporary african dance. Acogny’s L’Ecole des Sables has become a cradle where young dancers benefit from professional training, are given a solid foundation in their lives as artists, with a philosophy of openness towards international dance. In 2008, Acogny collaborated with Jawole Zollar on L’ecailles de la Memoire, which was performed by Urban Bush Women and Compagnie Jant-Bi. Acogny dances, choreographs and teaches all over the world, and has become a true emissary of African dance and culture.
Carmen de Lavallade first appeared in New York City with the Lester Horton Dance Theater and subsequently made her Broadway debut with Alvin Ailey in “House of Flowers” (1954). She has appeared in a number of films, including “Carmen Jones;” “Odds Against Tomorrow” with Harry Belafonte; Adam Sandler’s “Big Daddy;” and John Sayles’s “Lone Star.” As a dancer, she had ballets created for her by Lester Horton, Geoffrey Holder, Alvin Ailey, Glen Tetley and Agnes de Mille. She was principle dancer with the Metropolitan Opera in “Aida” and “Samson and Delilah,” a guest artist with the American Ballet Theatre, and the production of John Butler’s “Carmina Burana” at the New York City Center Opera. At Yale, she taught movement for actors and became a member of the Yale Repertory Company and the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard. She has choreographed for the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Philadanco, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and the productions of “Porgy and Bess” and “Die Meistersinger” at the Metropolitan Opera. Carmen received the Dance Magazine Award in 1964, an honorary doctorate of Fine Arts from the Juilliard School, the Duke Ellington Fellowship Award, and the Dance USA Award in 2010. Presently she is a founding member of Paradigm, a repertory concert company for dancers over fifty.
Dianne McIntyre, originally from Cleveland, OH, is known for her choreographic works in concert dance and theatre. Her mentors include Elaine Gibb, Virginia Dryansky, dance faculty of The Ohio State University and Gus Solomons Jr. Her company, Sounds in Motion, toured internationally. She ran a popular dance studio/school, under the same name, in Harlem in the 1970s and 80s. McIntyre’s choreography has been performed by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ailey II, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, Philadanco, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Dancing Wheels, Cleveland Contemporary Dance Theatre, and numerous college ensembles. She has taught at American Dance Festival, Bates Dance Festival and Jacobs Pillow. She has also choreographed for Broadway, London’s West End and over 20 regional US theatres. McIntyre’s “dance-driven dramas”, developed from her interviews and historical research, have been produced at Theater of the First Amendment, Cleveland Play House and Baltimore Center Stage and include I Could Stop on a Dime and Get Ten Cents Change, Open the Door, Virginia!, and Peaches, Plums and Pontifications. Composer Olu Dara is a longtime collaborator in her tradition of work with live music – often jazz. Her film/television credits: Beloved, Langston Hughes: The Dream Keeper, for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf and Miss Evers Boys (Emmy nomination). Awards include: John S. Guggenheim Fellowship, three Bessies (NY Dance and Performance Award), Helen Hayes Award (DC Theatre), Cleveland Arts Prize, ADF Balasarawati/Joy Ann Dewey Beinecke Endowed Chair for Distinguished Teaching, two AUDELCOs (NY Black Theatre), Honorary Doctor of Fine Art from SUNY Purchase, Creative Workforce Fellowship through Ohio’s Cuyahoga County Art and Culture and numerous grants and commissions. New and upcoming: Why I Had to Dance — a choreopoem by Ntozake Shange, The Best Location a multi-arts work with Oberlin College faculty/artists, Closure Mary Weems’ play for Karamu Theatre, and new dances for Eleone Dance Theatre, Dallas Black Dance Theatre and University of Michigan dancers.
Bebe Miller, a native New Yorker, has been making dances for over twenty-five years, and has created over forty original works for companies here and abroad. Her interest in finding a physical language for the human experience is a connecting thread throughout her work; in order to further this process through group inquiry she formed Bebe Miller Company in 1985. After two decades of national and international touring, the company is now structured as a “virtual company,” with dancers, collaborating artists and designers living in various locations around the U.S. In recent years, she has been investigating a mix of theatrical narrative, performance and media to expand this language, notably in Necessary Beauty, Landing/Place and Three, the award-winning collaborative film created with choreographer Ralph Lemon and filmmaker Isaac Julien. Collaboration being fundamental to her working process, she has long standing collaborative partnerships with the dancers who share her studio practice as well as composers, designers, visual artists, writers and directors. Bebe Miller has created original works for Boston Ballet, Oregon Ballet Theatre, Philadanco, and Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. She has also received commissions from Phoenix Dance Company in Leeds, England; PATH Dance Company of Johannesburg, RSA; and Sbrit Dance Company, Asmara, Eritrea. Bebe Miller’s choreography has been performed internationally in Europe, the Caribbean and Africa, and nationally in venues ranging from Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Series, Walker Center for the Arts, Wexner Center for the Arts to numerous colleges and universities. She has been honored with four “Bessies” (New York Dance and Performance Awards), a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, an American Choreographer’s Award and Artist Fellowships from the Ohio Arts Council and New York Foundation for the Arts. She is a member of the Board of Directors of Danspace Project, Bearnstow and Dance Theater Workshop. Bebe Miller is a Distinguished Professor in Ohio State University’s College of Arts and Humanities where she has taught since 2000, and received an Honorary Doctorate from Ursinus College in 2009.
Jawole Willa Jo Zollar was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri. She trained with Joseph Stevenson, a student of the legendary Katherine Dunham, and received a B.A. in dance from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and an M.F.A. in dance from Florida State University. In 1980 she moved to New York City to study with Dianne McIntyre at Sounds in Motion and founded Urban Bush Women in 1984. In addition to thirty-three works for UBW, Jawole has created choreography for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ballet Arizona, Philadanco, University of Maryland, University of Florida, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and others. Her many positions as a teacher and speaker include Worlds of Thought Resident Scholar at Mankato State University (1993-94), Regents Lecturer in the Departments of Dance and World Arts and Culture at UCLA (1995-96), Visiting Artist at Ohio State University (1996), and the Abramowitz Memorial Lecturer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1998). She was named Alumna of the Year by University of Missouri (1993) and Florida State University (1997), and awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Columbia College, Chicago (2002). In 2005 she was cited by The Kennedy Center of Performing Arts as a Master of African American choreography. In 2006 she was recognized with a New York Dance & Performance Award, a “Bessie”, for her choreography of the Pearl Primus-inspired dance, “Walking With Pearl…Southern Diaries.” Most recently she was named a Guggenheim Fellow and an United States Artists Wynn Fellow, a distinction that carries a cash award of $50,000. Her company was selected by the U.S. Department of State to tour South America in 2010 to inaugurate an international cultural diplomacy program called DanceMotion USA. She is a former board member of Dance/USA, the national dance service organization based in Washington, DC. Zollar has received the Martin Luther King Distinguished Service Award from Florida State University, where she holds a tenured position as the Nancy Smith Fichter Professor in the Department of Dance. Zollar also directs the annual Urban Bush Women Summer Leadership Institute, an intensive training program in dance and community engagement for artists with leadership potential interested in developing a community focus in their art-making. The Institute relocated to New Orleans from Brooklyn in 2009 at the request of artists in New Orleans looking for support for their rebuilding process after Hurricane Katrina.
Jessica Lynne and DéLana R.A. Dameron reflect on ways they make a home, creatively, wherever they are.