After a rousing program of performances and speeches of tribute, the legendary Katherine Dunham, who is 94 years old, was brought on to the Symphony Space stage and had some sharp things to say as she dominated the scene from her wheelchair. Capping the September 12th evening in her honor, she repeatedly made the point that she doesn't want to be thought of as a great black choreographer but just as a choreographer without regard to color. She pleaded for others to think that way and for a world in which people are recognized for who they are without regard to color of their skin.
Despite her years, Dunham was eloquent and feisty and obviously enjoying the salute. The event was part of three days highlighting Haiti and its culture presented by the Pangea Theatre Company. Dunham, who has lived in Jamaica and Haiti, found the Caribbean an inspiration for the dances that she created, and she has had a profound influence on choreography. Her dance company performed throughout the world. She has also been an activist in the cause of social justice, and she was honored for that as well as for her importance in dance.
Her contributions were reflected in the tribute program. Included were performances by Angel Rodriquez and Women of the Calabash, as well as such attractions as Paulette Saint-Lot and the Ibo Dancers of Haiti performing "Le Duel des Ogou" and the Marie Brooks Pan-Caribbean Dance Company performing "Hope." Carmen deLavallade was particularly dazzling as she danced accompanied by Wynton Marsalis on the trumpet in a number called "Liberation." Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, gracious as always, were hosts, with Julie Belafonte introducing Dunham to a standing ovation.