Louis Johnson


Dancer  Choreographer  ~  Director  ~  Professor 

 Legendary 👑

By Dale Ricardo Shields

Page 1 of 10

{ 3/19/1930  –  3/31/2020

“Most renowned for his choreography in the timeless film, The Wiz, Johnson was one of the first African Americans to appear in a Broadway ensemble.  Having been featured and learning from some of the dance greats, including Bob Fosse and Jerome Robbins, Johnson began creating his own art in the 1950s.  In addition to commissioning some of his most notable works for the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, he also received a Tony Award nomination for his choreography in the 1970 musical Purlie.” – Broadway Black


“Dance Theatre of Harlem mourns the loss of our dear Louis Johnson, artist, choreographer, friend. A brilliant ballet dancer, he gained his greatest acclaim as a choreographer, creating “Forces of Rhythm” for the young DTH in 1971. Forces went on to become a signature work that remained in the repertoire for many years. Louis Johnson also choreographed such films as “The Wiz” and “Cotton Come to Harlem,” the operas, “La Gioconda” and “Aida” and was nominated for a Tony for his choreography for the Broadway production of “Purlie.” Always down-to-earth, he challenged the artists he worked with to find their individuality even as they strived for excellence. He is greatly missed.”
Photo by Idris Solomon


In 1940 Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre) had its premiere opening season at the Center Theater (across the street from Radio City Music Hall). On the program was a Black group dancing in Agnes de Mille’s “Black Ritual.”
That was the last time Black dancers danced with Ballet Theatre until 1965 when Agnes de Mille choreographed “The Four Marys” for ABT with Carmen de Lavallade, Glory Van Scott, Judith Jamison, and Cleo Quitman and Paul Sutherland.
“Louis Johnson was one of the few African Americans to squeeze through the barricade, dancing in Jerome Robbins Ballade with the New York City Ballet” 


Courtesy of Smokey Stevens


 “I Love Dance—Any Kind of Dance”


Louis Johnson: ‘I Love Dance—Any Kind of Dance’
September 28, 1975, Page 122
The New York Times Archives 
Very few Blacks have had all the experiences I’ve had. There haven’t been that many opportunities. I’ve performed and choreographed all kinds of dance so that that’s how I can go from ‘Treemonisha to the Metropolitan Opera,” says choreographer Louis Johnson, who created the much-acclaimed dances for Scott Joplin’s opera, “Treemonisha” and is about to become only the third Black choreographer at the Met. “Treemonisha” came to New York this month after enthusiastic receptions in Houston and Washington, D.C.
Johnson will choreograph the dances for this season’s “Aida” and “La Gioconda” at the invitation of John Dexter, production supervisor at the Metropolitan. He is already working on the “La Gioconda” ballet. “Dance of the Hours,” which will feature City Ballet star Allegra Kent and will be danced on pointe as pure ballet. “It’s so funny,” Johnson sighs. “When I was into classical ballet all those years, I couldn’t get hired or fired. There were just no outlets for Blacks. And now, all of a sudden, here I am doing ‘Dance of the Hours.’ “
Johnson is a cheerful, 43year‐old man who talks about his work with enthusiasm and looks back without a trace of bitterness on the years of struggle that led to his current triumph. A native of Washington, D.C., Johnson was the first “ Black” at the School of American Ballet, the official school of
Jennifer Dunning is a contributor to The Times and Dance Magazine. the New York City Ballet. He was not taken into the company and like many Black dancers at that time, made the rounds of Broadway musical auditions, even though he knew Blacks were rarely hired. “They were always going to write something in for you, but it never materialized.”
Since most performing opportunities were closed to him, Johnson began to pour his energies into choreography in the mid-fifties. He put together a number of small companies, which were made up of members of Katherine Dunham’s ethnic company and Black and White ballet dancers, some of whom were former classmates. “I am always overwhelmed to think I was in class with people like Alicia Alonso, Nora Kaye, Jerry Robbins, Igor Youskevitch, Maria Tallchief.”