Clark Center for the Performing Arts [Clark Center]
Alvin Ailey helped to create Clark Center under the auspices of the Westside YWCA in New York City. He was one of the gifted young artists who emerged in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. This upsurge of talented, mostly Black dancers and choreographers were eager to have their work seen on the concert stage, but had little or no access to rehearsal space to create their work.
“Dance grew like Topsy there. Clark Center was the only reason we were able to continue.”Alvin Ailey (who referred to Clark Center as his ‘ritual home’ )
For 30 years Clark Center trained dancers, encouraged emerging companies, and identified and developed new choreographic talent. The YWCA provided the space as well as administrative salaries and services. Originally a multi-arts center that included classes and performances in other disciplines such as opera and theater, by 1970 it focused almost exclusively on dance. The one exception to this trend was Playwright’s Horizons, an off-Broadway theater company established in 1971 to provide a showcase for new playwrights and directors, with Robert Moss as director/producer.
The Clark Center for the Performing Arts Legacy:
Through a preeminent faculty of instructors, an extensive scholarship program, and a philosophy of accessibility, Clark Center for the Performing Arts provided an environment that produced dancers, teachers and choreographers with far-reaching influence on the dance world. Students worked with the finest teachers, and often were given the opportunity to perform in Clark Center-based dance companies. Faculty included Alvin Ailey, Fred Benjamin, Pepsi Bethel, Anna Sokolow, Marjorie Perces, Loremil Machado and Charles Moore, to name some of the prominent teachers at Clark Center. Typical of that period, there were many talented musicians who accompanied classes and performed live in concerts, adding a great artistic dimension to the environment.
Clark Center’s Dance Horizons program produced over 120 dance companies and choreographers, thus exposing their work to a wide audience. Small and emerging dance companies were provided with professional support services, a showcase for their work, and funds to pay their dancers. The companies represented the full spectrum of the dance world: from Multi-Gravitational Aerodance to Charles Moore’s Dances and Drums of Africa to Kei Takei’s Moving Earth to Urban Bush Women. The “Concerts for Kids” series was a first introduction to dance for many children.
“Some of the most important, fantastic, and wonderful times of my career were at Clark Center…It was a Mecca for Arts, a Mecca for Dance and a Mecca for people who wanted to understand what the professional art world was all about.”– Chuck Davis, Director of DanceAfrica
The New Choreographers Concerts introduced over 115 talented choreographers, e.g., Michael Peters, best known as a Tony Award winner for “Dream Girls” and choreographer of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and “Beat It” music videos. Michael Peters said, “I was in a Clark Center’s New Choreographer’s Concert in 1971 and there was no place else for such a showcase.” Many choreographers who were given this opportunity eventually formed dance companies and were produced by Clark Center’s Dance Horizons.
A listing of the dance professionals that can trace their beginnings to Clark Center is a Who’s Who of Dance: George Faison, Dianne McIntyre, Bill T. Jones, Hinton Battle, Kei Takei, Chuck Davis, Meredith Monk, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Eleo Pomare and many others. Many distinguished themselves as choreographers, directors, dancers and teachers. Others worked in theater, both onstage performing and backstage technical aspects and many became the support backbone as the dance audience.
Directors Clark Center for the Performing Arts
Edele Holtz, 1960-1963 (1959?)
Marianna Gates, 1963–1966
Joanna Nichols, 1966-1967
Kathleen Stanford-Grant, 1967–1970
Louise Roberts, 1970–1985
Jerry Cole, 1985-1989