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Dolphingirl

First Integrated Company?

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In class today, somehow the topic came up of what the first integrated ballet company was. I'm still curious, so I was wondering if anyone here knows?

Thanks,

Dolphingirl

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I don't know what was the first company, but you might interested that when Balanchine was discussing with Lincoln Kirstein plans for him to come to America, he wanted to found a school in Hartford, with, I believe, 7 white students and 7 black students.

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Are we talking companies of the 20th-21st centuries, or do we discount the pickup corps that were hired by the European touring companies, like the Petipas, the Taglionis, Fanny Elssler and others? Also, whereabouts? These companies also played Cuba.

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Not integration in our terms today, but Ballet Theatre planned a "Negro Wing" and Agnes de Mille created a work for black dancers back in the 1940s.

One could say that there is still not an integrated company; there are only companies with a few "dancers of color" in them. The reasons for this are complicated, and it's not as easy as hanging out a "please, join us! you're welcome here!" sign. We've had a couple of threads on race and racism in ballet (Issues forum), as well as one on black dancers (Dancers forum) so you might want to prowl around a bit.

Good question -- glad you're asking it!

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If pick-up companies are included, didn't Anna Pavlova have an all-black corps at a performance in the carribean? (I can't remember where... cuba? )

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Louis Moreau Gottschalk wrote of a Giselle he saw in Havana which featured all sorts of different-colored Wilis, who couldn't stand still during the solos and pas de deux, but lolled about, sitting on the scenery and lighting up cigars! I don't recall which touring ballerina was featured, but I can only imagine what she thought! If he were in Havana, that would put him in the late 1850s.

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Off the top of my head, Raven Wilkinson performed with one of the Ballet Russe companies, and Janet Collins with the Met Opera Ballet -- would need to look up which was first, though I think it might have been Wilkinson. If I remember correctly, Wilkinson used to make a joke out of the BR tradition of "ghosting" in hotel rooms (a dancer would rent a room for one, and then stuff in as many other people as he/she could to get the rates down) -- something to the effect that she was a very black ghost.

That's if you're just discussing ballet. Lester Horton ran an integrated company in LA in the 50's -- it's often referred to as "the first" or "one of the first," but again, I'd need to look it up to be sure.

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That's very interesting, Sandik, that you bring up Lester Horton. For our school's "pro-track" program, each person has to write a 1-2 page paper about some aspect of dance that we were assigned. One girl had just turned in a paper on Horton, and had given that exact information. So we were debating whether that meant the first ever or just the first Modern company.

To everyone: Thank you so much for your answers. I'll take them in to class next time I see that particular teacher.

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