Born in Chicago in 1912, Katherine Dunham cobbled together a remarkable career. She made her professional debut in 1933 in Ruth Page’s ballet La Guiablesse while studying anthropology at the University of Chicago, then was awarded a fellowship by the Rosenwald Foundation and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm to study dance in Martinique, Jamaica, Trinidad, and Haiti. The Federal Theater Project hired her in the late 30s–under its auspices she choreographed L’Ag’Ya, a fighting dance from Martinique that the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater added to its repertoire in 1987–and when that gig ended she got herself a job at the old Sherman Hotel, where she and her company appeared as part of Duke Ellington’s floor show. She went on to perform on Broadway and in the movies (including Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather) and established a dance school in New York that also offered courses in philosophy, French, Spanish, and West Indian culture: clearly she understood the importance of the well-rounded performer. Now living in East Saint Louis, she plans to attend this tribute if her health permits. Performing on the program are Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, Ko-Thi Dance Company from Milwaukee, Rafo International Combo de Chicago Haitian Soul, singer Maggie Brown (daughter of Oscar Brown Jr.) accompanying dancer Andrea Smith, Total Dance Dancical Productions from Atlanta (featuring Terrie Ajile Axam of Arrested Development), the Wylliams/Henry Dancers from Kansas City, Chicago’s Joel Hall Dancers, and former Najwa Dance Corps member T’Keyah Crystal Keymah, now a television star but still dancing. Friday and Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday at 5 at Mcauley Auditorium, 3737 W. 99th; $35-$40, $28 for kids 12 and under ($80 on Friday includes a reception and free tickets to other events). Call 708-371-5151 for tickets and information. –Laura Molzahn
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo from the book BLACK DANCE by Edward Thorpe.