At the gala opening of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s production of The Magic of Catherine Dunham at City Center in December, the first indication that this was going to be a different sort of evening at the ballet came during the seventy-eight-year-old choreographer’s introductory curtain speech, when she casually referred to her dances as “numbers.” Dunham’s popular success dates from 1940, when she brought her revue Tropics and Le Jazz Hot—subtitled “From Haiti to Harlem”—to Broadway. Later that year she created the role of Georgia Brown and collaborated with George Balanchine on the choreography of Cabin in the Sky. Then it was on to Hollywood, where Dunham and her Dancers backed up Lena Home in Stormy Weather. When she returned to Broadway it was under the management of Sol Hurok and, in the words of John Martin, the New...


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