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ABT Celebrates Juneteenth

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ABT Celebrates Juneteenth

On June 19, America commemorates the end of slavery. ABT celebrated by dedicating its social media accounts to the display of the beautiful diversity of Blackness.

Thank you MoBBallet for the inspiration.

Troy Brown

Dancer, teacher, mentor, and an inspiration to a new generation of dancers, Troy Brown got his start in dance at the Jones-Haywood School of Ballet, which was founded in 1941 by Doris W. Jones and Claire Haywood to teach classical ballet to young dancers of color in Washington, D.C. He went on to attend the School of American Ballet in New York City under a full scholarship and graduated from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C.

In his professional career, Troy performed with the Chicago City Ballet under the direction of Maria Tallchief, Pacific Northwest Ballet, the Baltimore Opera, the Washington Performing Arts Society, and the Washington Opera. Troy exudes remarkable insight and invaluable artistry in all of his work. Dedicated to encouraging and guiding his students in the world of classical ballet, Troy has mentored young dancers to go on to The Kirov Academy of Ballet, Maryland Youth Ballet, Joffrey Ballet School, Bolshoi Ballet, The School of American Ballet and the ABT Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. Among his students was ABT Company member Courtney Lavine. Troy currently teaches, choreographs and performs throughout the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area.

Troy Brown.
Photo courtesy of Troy Brown.

Troy Brown with a young Courtney Lavine and her dance partner.
Photo courtesy of Courtney Lavine.

Troy Brown and Courtney Lavine outside the David H. Koch Theater.
Photo courtesy of Courtney Lavine.

"I met Troy Brown when I was eight years old. He was the first ballet teacher to see potential in me when others didn't. Having one person believe in me gave me more confidence than I can ever explain. He helped me navigate the ballet world and always led me in the right direction. He is the reason I became a professional ballet dancer."

- Courtney Lavine

Olinda Cedeno

Born and raised in Queens, New York, Olinda began dancing at the age of 10 under Mercedes Ellington, the granddaughter of jazz legend Duke Ellington. She went on to dance at Public Arts High School (now LaGuardia High School) with the hope of focusing her studies in classical ballet. When told that she was too tall for ballet, Olinda chose modern dance as her focus instead.

Upon graduating from the school, Olinda was invited to join the Dance Theatre of Harlem as one of the company’s founding dancers in 1969; she was scouted in class by Mr. Mitchell himself at the Glen Tetley Studios, “Arthur Mitchell was very strict, but he could be so fun…And I realize why he was so strict because we had to work not twice as hard, ten times as hard as anyone else. He was out to prove that black people could do ballet.” [Click the video below to hear Olinda tell the tale!]

In her late thirties, after many years as a renowned Pilates instructor at her own studio in Midtown Manhattan, Olinda was inspired after she received her first professional massage to get her own massage license. In 1994, fresh from the Swedish Institute, Olinda was hired on the spot as a massage therapist at American Ballet Theatre, “I worked like a maniac [at ABT]. Some days eight hours straight…I felt comfortable because it was my old world. I’m familiar with dancers. I was worried the dancers would be really cold, but they were so nice and welcoming! I was shocked. It just blew me away.” Olinda continues to share her kindness, passion and optimism with the company and is one of the most beloved massage therapists at ABT.

Olinda Cedeno in 1971.
Photo courtesy of Olinda Cedeno.

The inaugural company of the Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1969.
(Olinda in the back row, third from the left.)
Photo courtesy of Olinda Cedeno.

"Arthur Mitchell was very strict, but he could be so fun... And I realize why he was so strict because we had to work not twice as hard, ten times as hard as anyone else. He was out to prove that black people could do ballet."

- Olinda Cedeno

Frances Taylor Davis

A native of Chicago, Illinois, Frances Taylor Davis was a teenager when her dance instructor encouraged her to audition for the Edna McRae School of the Dance in Chicago, where she was the only African-American student. It was at the school that Frances met Katherine Dunham who presented Frances with a scholarship to study at her school. Frances joined the Katherine Dunham Company at 18-years-old and toured with the company in Europe and South America. In 1948, at the age of 19, Frances was selected to star in a special performance with the Paris Opera Ballet and was the first African American to dance with the company. In a 2017 interview, Frances spoke fondly of that life-changing performance, “That was one of the highlights of my career because in this country [USA] they weren’t ready for a black ballerina in a major ballet company…The fact that I had performed with them was just one of the greatest opportunities in my life.”

In 1954, Frances returned to the Katherine Dunham Company as a leading dancer for the company’s tour in Rome, Italy. An international luminary of the stage, Frances starred on Broadway in the original cast of West Side Story, Off-Broadway, and across the world’s stages before retiring in Los Angeles. Her talent, passion and extraordinary life have inspired many dancers, and she remains an everlasting, pioneering artistic icon.

Frances Taylor Davis.
Photo: Fred Schiffer.

News article of Frances Taylor Davis in El Segundo, California.
Photo: Howard Morehead.

"Frances was one of many black ballerinas whose work, impact and legacy have often gone unnoticed. She became a close friend and mentor to me before her passing last year. She shared this story with me many times, of her moments on the stage with the Paris Opera, the first black woman to do so, dancing a portion of Swan Lake in a Gala.

The beauty I so often see in my people is their ability to be unapologetically themselves. To scream from the rafters for equality, freedom, to be seen and heard no matter the consequences both personally and professionally. That's what Frances Davis did throughout her life and what she represents to me.

Strength, beauty and truth."

- Misty Copeland

Carmen de Lavallade

Carmen de Lavallade is a true artistic legend. Her wide-reaching career as a dancer, actress, choreographer, teacher, and mentor has graced many stages and touched many hearts. In 1949, Carmen became a member of the Lester Horton Dance Theatre, Los Angeles’ first multiracial dance company as a lead dancer. In 1954, along with her high-school friend, Alvin Ailey, Carmen left for New York to dance in the Broadway production House of Flowers together. During that production, she met Geoffrey Holder, who would become her husband in 1955. In coming to New York, Carmen flourished into an illustrious artist and danced with many companies such as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and the Metropolitan Opera. In 1965, Carmen was invited to be a guest artist at ABT in a new work by Agnes de Mille, choreographed for the Company’s 25th anniversary season. Carmen’s prominence, poise and power inspired some of the greatest choreographers of the time to create works expressly for her including Lester Horton, Glen Tetley, John Butler and her late husband Geoffrey Holder.

Carmen’s incredible career and her contribution to the performing arts were recognized in 2017 when she received the Kennedy Center Honors. Her gala performance featured pieces choreographed by Geoffrey Holder, Alvin Ailey, and a routine set to the song “Bill” from the musical Show Boat, and featured dancers from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and ABT Principal Dancers Stella Abrera and Misty Copeland from American Ballet Theatre.

Carmen de Lavallade and Alvin Ailey in Lester Horton’s Dedication to Jose Clemente Orozco, performed at Jacob’s Pillow in 1961.
Photo: John Lindquist.

Carmen de Lavallade and her late husband Geoffrey Holder.
Photograph by Peter Bausch. Geoffrey Holder/Carmen de Lavallade Collection, Rose Library at Emory University.

Carmen de Lavallade.
Photo: Julieta Cervantes.

"Lift your eyes and look at each other. You aren't going to grow if you don't watch people. Tell their stories. Tell your story."

- Carmen de Lavallade

Judith Jamison

At the age of 21, Judith Jamison was selected by Agnes de Mille to appear as a guest artist for a new work she created at American Ballet Theatre. Known for her height (5’10”) and her regal, captivating presence, she quickly soared to new heights after joining the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1965. In 1971, Ailey choreographed the tour-de-force solo Cry for her to perform as a birthday present to his mother. It was described as, “a hymn to the sufferings and triumphant endurance of generations of black matriarchs,” and propelled Judith to international recognition and adoration. A portrait of her performing the piece by Max Waldman hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

In 1989, honoring the wishes of Alvin Ailey just before his death, Judith became the Artistic Director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and in her many years in the position, she brought the company to unprecedented horizons, including a historic engagement in South Africa in 2015 and a 50-city worldwide tour to celebrate AAADT’s 50th anniversary. In 2004, her dream of a permanent home for Alvin Ailey was realized in 2004 when she opened The Joan Weill Center for Dance in Manhattan, the largest building dedicated to dance in New York City. Judith passed the torch of Artistic Director of AAADT to Robert Battle in 2011, and she remains committed and passionate about honoring and promoting Ailey’s profound legacy.

Judith Jamison in Cry.
Photo: Jack Mitchell, 1971.

Alvin Ailey with Judith Jamison.
Photo by Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, Inc. and Smithsonian Institution.

Judith Jamison celebrates with students at the opening of Alvin Ailey’s new home, The Joan Weill Center for Dance in 2004, the largest building dedicated to dance in New York City.
Photo by Kwame Brathwaite courtesy of Aliey Archives.

"We don't survive unless we have something to say, and boy, do we have something to say and we've been saying it for a long time and will continue to do so."

- Judith Jamison

Vernon Ross

Vernon Ross has been a member of the wardrobe department with American Ballet Theatre for the last fourteen years, however, working behind the scenes was not Vernon’s first love. Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, Vernon made his way to New York as a dancer in 1981, joining the Dance Theatre of Harlem pipeline, first as a student in the school and then as a dancer with the company before eventually taking over the production department. In a pinch-hitting situation, (“I didn’t even know how to sew!”), Vernon was plucked from the studio and into the wardrobe department by Arthur Mitchell himself. Vernon quickly became an integral part of the creation of skin-tone tights and shoes for all of the company’s dancers. Vernon spent countless hours standing over 30-gallon boiling pots of water concocting the perfect shade for each individual company dancer. For the first time in ballet history, dancers of color were embracing their skin color on stage instead of covering them up with the traditional ballet pink toned tights, “All of them [the dancers] would treat tights like gold, because they wanted to look their best. It was one of the biggest aspects of my job because Mr. Mitchell was really a stickler about the flesh-tone shoes and tights. And, really, he set the platform for it being what it is today.”

Vernon Ross.
Photo courtesy of Vernon Ross.

Eddie Shellman and members of the Harlem Dance Theatre prepare for a production of The Four Temperaments, New York, New York, 1970.
Photo: Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images.

Tights and shoes on exhibit at “Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts.”
Photo by Gene Ogami.

"We were making history. And I was a part of that."

- Vernon Ross