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1976
Michael Bennett (Di Figlia) wins Pulitzer Prize for A Chorus Line, and other Italian American contributions to the world of dancing.


Italian American contributions into the world of professional dancing in this country is traced to the 18th century when certain artists came to New York and Boston to establish schools of contemporary dancing. In the 19th century even more Italian dance artists, especially ballet performers made their way here helping to develop that art form across the land. From its inception in the Metropolitan Opera Company in 1883, ballet troupes that contained numerous Italian names were featured including Luigi Albertieri, Rosina Galli, and Maria Gambarelli. Edward Villella is probably the most famous Italian American popular ballet dancer. Born in New York in 1936, of parents of Neapolitan and Calabrian background, he started dancing at age 10 eventually becoming one of the principal performers for the New York City Ballet. He thrilled audiences with his athletic vitality, especially soaring leaps and jumps, and continued dancing into the 1970s when he began to teach dancing and write books about his life and the world of dancing. Other Italian Americans who excelled as professional dancers in major ballet companies in the 20th century were Kay Mazzo, Maria Calegari, and Louis Falco. Interestingly, the Joffrey Ballet Company is named after its founder, Abdullah Jaffa bey Khan, whose father was Afghan and mother Italian American. Italian Americans also contributed substantially to popular dance forms in vaudeville, burlesque, nightclubs, Broadway musicals, Hollywood films, and television. Among such stars were Ann Corio of burlesque fame and Peter Gennaro who was called "the greatest white jazz dancer in America." Gennaro also choreographed hit musicals "Fiorello" and "The Unsinkable Molly Brown." Eminent dance choreographers include Nick Castle (Nicola Casaccio) and Albert Desio who helped choreograph a number of important musical films. For a time Tony DeMarco and Frank "Killer Joe" Piro were among the most famous ballroom dancers. In what is a seeming improbability, Jose Greco (Costanzo Greco) became a leader performer and popularizer of Spanish dance.

Of special mention is the name of Michael Bennett (Michael Bennett Di Figlia) (1943-1987) who was born in Buffalo, New York in 1947 and studied various forms of dancing. He was a dancer in the hit musical "West Side Story." He is credited with choreographing a number of Broadway musicals including "Promises, Promises" (1968),"Coco" (1968), "Company" (1970), and "Follies" (1971). The highlight of his career was "A Chorus Line," which he conceived, directed and choreographed and which most reflected his beginnings as a dancer. This became the longest running Broadway musical of all time and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1976. Bennett received 8 Tony Awards and several New York Drama Critics Awards.




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