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George Faison
Born: December 21, 1945
Occupation: dancer, choreographer
George Faison was born in Washington, D.C., where he attended Dunbar High School. While in high school, he studied dance with the Jones-Haywood Capitol Ballet and Carolyn Tate of Howard University. Faison entered Howard to study dentistry in 1964, but left in 1966, after a performance by the Alvin Ailey company inspired him to pursue a career in dance.

Faison moved to New York City in 1966 and became an immediate success in the dance world. That same year, he was chosen as Lauren Bacall's dance partner in a television special. Faison joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1967 as a dancer and remained through 1969. He left Ailey to begin his own group, George Faison Universal Dance Experience, in 1971. The company's roster of dancers included Debbie Allen, Renee Rose, Gary DeLoatch, and Al Perryman. Faison served as dancer and choreographer, creating original work for the company. One of Faison's best-known works is "Suite Otis" (1971), set to the music of Otis Redding. The dance is for five couples and combines elements of ballet and contemporary dance. Faison also created pieces with a historical and political bent, among them works inspired by the memory of Malcolm X. "Poppy" (1971) dealt with the problem of drug addiction.

Faison made his choreographic debut on Broadway with the show "Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope" in 1972. In 1974 he choreographed "The Wiz," the successful all-black musical retelling of THE WIZARD OF OZ Faison won a Tony Award for his choreography, the first for an African American in that category. By the mid-1970s the George Faison Universal Dance Experience had disbanded, and Faison was choreographing music concerts for such artists as Stevie Wonder; Earth, Wind & Fire; and Gladys Knight and the Pips. This was in addition to his work in musical theater. Faison has choreographed more than 30 plays and musicals, including the short-lived Broadway musical "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" (1967) with music by Leonard Bernstein; a Radio City Music Hall production of "Porgy and Bess" (1983); and "Sing, Mahalia, Sing" (1985) at the Shubert Theater in Philadelphia. Faison has also worked in television, and in 1989 he conceived and produced a television special COSBY SALUTES AILEY for the 30th anniversary of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. He won an Emmy Award for his choreography of the HBO special THE JOSEPHINE BAKER STORY, which aired in 1991.

-- Zita Allen

Dunning, Jennifer. NEW YORK TIMES, November 27, 1977, p. B6.
McDonagh, Don. THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO MODERN DANCE. Garden City, N.Y., 1976.

Source Citation: "George Faison." ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CULTURE AND HISTORY. 5 vols. Macmillan, 1996. Reprinted by permission of Gale Group.