ABDEL SALAAMExecutive Artistic Director/Choreographer Forces of Nature Dance Theatre By Dale Ricardo Shields
“My spirit is exalted through Art and the world of Dance! Dance and the Divine are One!”
Born in Harlem in 1950, Mr. Salaam began his artistic training at the age of five with the study of music through piano, xylophone, and glockenspiel. At the age of nine, he began to study classical viola, and by age eleven he was playing the alto saxophone, an interest, which grew out of his love for jazz music. Upon graduation from the High School of Music and Art in 1968, Mr. Salaam was accepted at Lehman College through the S.E.E.K. program. His college years were informed by the peak of the Black Power Movement, African American Cultural Nationalism, and a new African centered identity that swept college campuses in the late 1960s and early 70s. He was an integral member of the Lehman Black Student Organization, Kubanbanya, and was one of the two student activists left on campus after its leaders were barred from entry to negotiate what would be the birth of Lehman’s Black Studies Department and Curriculum. It was during that period that Mr. Salaam was approached by dancer/choreographer Joan Miller, Professor at Lehman, who convinced him in his sophomore year, to become one of the College’s first dance majors in its fledging B.F.A. program. The College’s dance department was soon a rival to the excellence of The Julliard Schoolincluding such teachers as the late Louis Falco, Chuck Davis, John Parks, Miguel Godreau, and Nadine Revine, in addition to Ms. Miller.
In 1972, after training for only 2-1/2 years, Mr. Salaam was offered a place in the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. He chose, however, to remain in school and follow his own creative directions. In the years to come, Mr. Salaam performed as a principal dancer and soloist with the Joan Miller Chamber Arts/Dance Players, the Fred Benjamin Dance Company, Ron Pratt’s Alpha Omega 1-7 Theatrical Dance Company, and Otis Salid’s New Art Ensemble and ultimately became Associate Artistic Director of the internationally acclaimed Chuck Davis Dance Company. He also performed as a guest artist with the American Contemporary Ballet Company under the direction of American Ballet Theater’s Keith Lee; the Contemporary Chamber Dance Theater. In 1981, Mr. Salaam co-founded Forces of Nature Dance Theater with his partner Olabamidele Husbands and his wife and former principle dancer, Dyane Harvey.
After several years of artistic and spiritual service, Mr. Salaam was offered a commission in 1988 by the Very Reverend James Parks Morton, Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, to help create the first African Episcopal Mass for the Church using African dance and music as a liturgical voice. During the 80′s, Mr. Salaam served as a delegate for the Artists for Ecology’s International Summit at the Sundance Institute in Utah; the Conference on Third World Arts and European Theater in Oxford, England; and the 12th Annual Festival for Peace in Moscow, Russia. He and his company also led the historic procession for Nelson and Winnie Mandela on their visit to New York in 1990. Years later, in 1997, he served as a cultural delegate to the Dance Umbrella/Dance Alive Festival in Johannesburg, South Africa through the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Mr. Salaam received two 2 year Choreographers Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1991-1993 and 1994-1996) as well as commissions from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the National Committee for Young Audiences, the Bronx Council on the Arts, the Department of Cultural Affairs, and the New York State Council on the Arts. Additionally, Mr. Salaam’s awards and fellowships include: the Monarch Merit Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance from the National Council for Arts & Culture (1993); the Silver Anniversary Award for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography, Teaching and Performance from Lehman College of the City University of New York (1994); Carla Sayrce Alumni Award in Dance Arts, Lehman College of the City University of New York (1989); Morani Shujaa Award in Black Studies, Lehman College of the City University of New York (1990); Dance Africa Award in Choreography, Brooklyn Academy of Music (1987); American Choreographer of the Year nomination (1989); and Better Family Life Lifetime Achievement Award in Arts (2000).Currently Mr Salaam is a 2004 New York Foundation For The Art Fellow and been appointed as the Tennessee Performing Art Center’s first artist in residence until 2006.
Mr. Salaam’s theatrical credits as a choreographer include: “Sundiata, the Lion King of Mali” directed by David Schecter at Theaterworks USA; “Measure for Measure” directed by Michael Rudman at the New York Shakespeare Festival’s Delacorte Theater; and “Pecong” directed Dennis Zacek at the Newark Symphony Hall. As a director/choreographer, Mr. Salaam’s credits include: “Ju-Ju Man” at the Billie Holiday Theater in New York; “Ancestral Earths” at the Apollo Theater in New York; “Ebony Magic” at the Aaronow Theater in New York; “Sweet Saturday Night”, a 20-city tour by Gordon Crowe Productions; and “American Griot” at the Triplex Theater in New York.
In television, Mr. Salaam served as choreographer for: “The Creative Spirit”, WNET Channel Thirteen; “Expressions in Black: Story of a People”, WABC; “The Caribbean Music Awards”, BET Global Syndication; “St. Francis Celebration” at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, WNET Channel Thirteen; “Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters,” WNET Channel Thirteen; “Great Performances: Forces of Nature”, Telemundo, Mexico City; “Critics Choice: Abdel Salaam”, Galavision, Mexico City. As a performer Mr Salaam appeared on the Richard Pryor Show, Great Performances “The American Dance Festival”, and WPIX Talk of the Town.
Through his company Forces of Nature Dance Theater, Mr. Salaam has served as a featured director and choreographer in the first and second “Belize International Dance Festival;” the “First International Black Dance Festival” at the Albany Theater in London; “Propaganda Musicale E Danza” in Sardinia & Sicilia, Italy; “The Gran Festival Internacional De Mexico,” at the Teatro Jimenez Rueda, Mexico City; “The American Dance Festival” at Sejoung Center for the Performing Arts” in Seoul, Korea; “The Aruba International Dance Festival” in Aruba, Central America; and the “Twelfth Annual Festival for Peace” in Moscow, Russia.
Mr. Salaam’s choreographic commissions include: “The Forest Guardian”, Sakoba Dance Theater in London, England; Buffalo Soldiers at Erie Bay Front Bllet in Erie, PA, “Buffalo Soldiers” and “Lamban Taino”, Ballet Isleno de Puerto Rico in Punta Borinquen, Puerto Rico; “The Bittercup Heals” and “Pendulum” Contemporary Chamber Dance Company, New York, NY; “Ebony Magic” Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center, Brooklyn, NY; “Visions at Goree”, African American Dance Ensemble, Durham, NC; and “Dance Tek Warriors” Union Dance Theater, London, England. Additionally, Mr. Salaam has received two choreographic commissions from Florida A&M University to choreograph “Buffalo Soldiers” and “Afro-House” and Hofstra University where he developed “Le Mer Rouge.” He has choreographed six “Winter Solstice” celebrations for Paul Winter at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. Most recently, Mr. Salaam and his company received a grant through the New England Foundation for the Arts/ National Dance Project to develop “Rhythm Legacy: The Living Books” which premiered in 2001 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Harvey Theater. The project was then awarded additional funding to tour the United States during its 2002-2003 season.
In 1979, Mr. Salaam received a Certificate of Study from the University of Ife in Nigeria for Yoruba Arts and Culture, and completed a special workshop series in Dakar, Senegal in Mandinke and Wolof culture. He has served on the faculties of the American Dance Festival in Durham, NC; Lehman College of the City University of New York, and at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre as Guest Instructor in Choreography and the Influence of African Dance on American Modern Dance and Culture.
Mr. Salaam’s attended Herbert H. Lehman College as an undergraduate from 1968-1973 in their B.F.A. Program. His professional skills include: African drumming; graphic design; costume design and sound design. He received his additional Dance Education from Clark Center for the Performing Arts, The Alvin Ailey American Dance Center, The Chuck Davis Dance Academy, The Eleo Pomare Dance Center, The Fred Benjamin Dance Center, The American Dance Festival and numerous African Dance masters at home and abroad. He and his company are currently Artists in Residence at The Cathedral of St. John The Divine New York. A perpetual seeker, Abdel continues his quest for knowledge, wisdom, understanding and realization on every plane of being he is capable of reaching.
Biographical update: Mr. Salaam recently completed his work on ” Katonga. Musical Tales from the Jungle” for Busch Entertainment Corporation at Busch Gardens/Tampa Bay in Florida. The three year project in which he was credited for all choreography and musical staging will run for approximately five years, and received the Entertainment Award for the Best Musical Show in the World within a theme park in 2004. In the fall of 2004. Abdel has been commissioned by the Tennessee Performing Arts Center ( T.P.A.C.) and The Nashville Ballet to choreograph an original work on their company to be performed as a part of their Emergence Series as well as to serve as a section of his new full length ballet” Eclipse: Visions of the Crescent and the Cross”, to be presented at T.P.A.C. during their 2006-7 season.
(bio care of www.forcesofnature.org)