Rhodes, Lawrence | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Rhodes, Lawrence

Lawrence Rhodes, dancer, ballet master, teacher, choreographer and director (b at Mount Hope, West Virginia 24 Nov 1939).

Rhodes, Lawrence

Lawrence Rhodes, dancer, ballet master, teacher, choreographer and director (b at Mount Hope, West Virginia 24 Nov 1939). Lawrence Rhodes established a reputation as one of the finest American male dancers of his generation, and went on to become a respected teacher and, as artistic director of Montréal's LES GRANDS BALLETS CANADIENS, 1989-99, helped bring that company renewed national and international renown.

Rhodes began in dance studying tap at age 9, inspired by the example of Fred Astaire. He began ballet training at age 14 in Detroit with Violette Armand and later in New York at the school of the then largely American Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, which he joined in 1958. From 1960 to 1964 he danced with the Joffrey Ballet, rising to become principal dancer under the tutelage of its inspirational founder, Robert Joffrey. Rhodes joined the Harkness Ballet in 1964, became its artistic director in 1968, and continued to dance with the company until it was disbanded in 1970. He danced with the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam (1970-71), with the Pennsylvania Ballet (1971-76) and concurrently with the Feld Ballet (1973-75). He also appeared extensively as an international guest artist, dancing with such luminaries as Italian ballerina Carla Fracci. In 1978 Rhodes began teaching in the dance department at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, becoming chairman in 1981 and remaining principal ballet teacher.

As a performer Lawrence Rhodes was noted for his riveting stage presence, technical surety and stylistic versatility, inspiring such choreographers as Brian MACDONALD, Alvin Ailey, John Butler, Lar Lubovitch and Rudi van Dantzig to create roles for him. His repertoire extended from the traditional classic through the works of the great George Balanchine to many contemporary roles in works by José Limon and Maurice Béjart.

As director of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens he refocused the company's artistic persona, emphasizing neo-classical 20th-century works as well as creations by a variety of foreign and Canadian choreographers. Through his careful attention to training Rhodes also raised the company to a high performance level, a fact noted by foreign and Canadian critics during its extensive tours. Even so, the constraints of trying to pursue his artistic vision within a difficult financial and market-driven managerial environment hastened Rhodes's retirement. He returned to New York where, in 2002, he became artistic director of the Juilliard School Dance Division.

Lawrence Rhodes received Dance Teacher magazine's Lifetime Career Achievement Award in 2009, following its 2008 prize for his outstanding work in the industry. He continues to teach throughout the US and in Europe, Mexico and Canada.