Get to know Five First Ladies of Dance


From right to left: Dianne McIntyre, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Germaine Acogny,
Carmen de Lavallade, Bebe Miller curtain call at the Painted Bride Art Center
photo credit: Victor Jouvert

By Merilyn Jackson, For The Inquirer

What do five 60-plus black women share that has brought them together in a single show?

Answer: All five have been making dance against heavy headwinds for as long as half a century. Each has received honors and accolades, and is still flying high. Yet none is as well known outside dance circles as, say, Judith Jamison or Debbie Allen.

So Georgiana Pickett, executive director of Brooklyn’s 651 Arts, in 2009 conceived a show that would give audiences a glimpse of the rich span of dance contributed by these dancer/choreographers for three generations and 50 years. This weekend that show, “Fly: Five First Ladies of Dance,” comes to the Painted Bride Art Center.

Mikki Shepard and Leonard Goines founded 651 Arts, based in Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater, in 1988 to support contemporary performance rooted in the African diaspora. Last year 651’s Pickett invited Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Bebe Miller, Carmen de Lavallade, and Dianne McIntyre, all African Americans, and Germaine Acogny of Senegal to perform solos in a show now touring the country.

Pickett called it “Fly: Five First Ladies of Dance” because “of course we thought of the street-slang fly as in cool or in-style, but also these ladies are still in fly-girl shape – you want to look at them,” she said. “But then there is actual flying. They’re kind of flying above their arduous efforts to survive.”

She conceived the piece after seeing Bebe Miller in her last show at Dance Theater Workshop. “Bebe was in the piece, but not a central focus. I really was craving to see more of her physicality on the stage,” she said.

“Older dancers start slowly edging out of their work to defer to the capabilities of the younger body. We wanted women who were still active practitioners and not juxtapose them to the younger people in their companies.”

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