R O D R O D G E R S
Rod Rodgers was a second-generation choreographer who worked extensively in modern dance and musical theatre. Rodgers, was best known for his development of concert repertoire which explores and celebrates the Black experience. Rodgers stated in a 1992 interview with the New York Times that, "when we talk about celebrating the creative struggle of black Americans, we extend that to include not just struggles for freedom and social change, but also struggles to create innovative works."
Though Rod Rodgers was born in Cleveland, he grew up in Detroit where he studied tap and jazz dance. In 1962, at the age of 25, Rodgers moved to New York, where he studied under Eric Hawkins, Mary Anthony, Charles Weidman and Hanya Holm. Three years later, in 1965 he became the director of the dance project at Mobilization for Youth, where he created a popular lecture-demonstration program called ''Dance Poems . . . Black, Brown, Negro.'' A year later, in 1966 he would go on to create the Rod Rodgers Dance Company.
Choreography & Artistic Work
In 1967, Rod Rodgers began to draw from his background as a percussionist, and developed a unique, signature suite for his company where the dancers contribute to the musical environment with hand held instruments as they move in space, titled “RHYTHMDANCES”. This would become the suite that put Rodgers on the radar of dancers and critics alike. Aside from his acclaimed “RHYTHMDANCES”, several of his other major works made fierce social commentary on the Black experience. Some of which include, "Victims", "Cameos of Women", and "POETS & PEACEMAKERS”, a multi-arts series of tributes to Black heroes.
While Rod Rodgers had extensive experience in choreographing concert repertoire as well as performing in the concert realm, he also had numerous choreography credits in off Broadway and television productions. Some of which included the Syracuse Opera Company’s production of AIDA, the play “A Study In Color” by Malcolm Boyd, and “The Prodigal Sister”, an Off Broadway Musical for Woody King Jr. Rodgers also directed and staged “The Black Cowboys” for the Harlem Opera which was presented at the City Center of Music & Drama, the Brooklyn Academy, and eventually on an international tour.
Rodgers also staged a reading of Ntozake Shanges' novel, “Sassafras, Cypress & Indigo”, which was produced by Joseph Papp at the Public Theatre in NYC. Mr. Rodgers staged and directed several productions for Voices, Inc., including “Journey into Blackness” and a touring production of a musical tribute to Martin Luther King, which was presented as a CBS-TV Special. He also choreographed and had a lead acting role in a WABC-TV special “Like It Is”, a TV show based on "This is my Beloved".
Throughout Rod Rodgers' career his choreography has been featured in the repertoires of numerous dance companies across the U.S. Some of which include,Wylliams-Henry Dance Company, Philadanco, and Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble. His work was also included in the first, Dance Black America Festival which was held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Under the direction of Rodgers himself, the versatile ensemble, toured across the U.S. and abroad, including festivals in Mexico and Italy. The company also went on an extended international tour to Senegal, Kenya, Nigeria, Zaire, Zambia, Syria and Portugal by way of U.S.I.S. (formerly the US State Department).
Awards & Accolades
While Rodgers served as an arts consultant and panelist for public and private grants programs, he also received fellowships and commissions from NY State Council on the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Creative Artists in Public Service, the Beard Fund, the John Hay Whitney Foundation, and others. Rodgers also was the recipient of the Spirit of Detroit Creative Award in Michigan and an AUDELCO Award for Innovative Audience Development Programs in NYC . Mr. Rodgers also had the privilege of publishing several articles about dance. His most in depth article being “Don’t Tell Me Who I am” appeared in the book “The Vision of Modern Dance”, a collection of essays where some of modern dances’ greatest and original choreographers wrote about what their vision of modern dance is. Rodgers’ essay primarily focused on identity as a black artist and the autonomy, or lack thereof, when creating for an audience as opposed to from one’s own artistic needs.
As a Master Teacher Mr. Rodgers specialized in helping dancers make the critical transition from studio to stage. He lectured widely across the U.S. and has been in residence at numerous colleges and universities both as a guest artist and regular staff member.
Rod A. Rodgers passed away on Sunday, March 24th, 2002 at St. Vincent's Hospital, in New York
“We continue his legacy to inspire and reflect the social climate of today. Thanks to his passion for the arts and his many outstanding accomplishments, Rod will always be an inspiration to all.”