Eleo Pomare

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Eleo Pomare
Born(1937-10-20)October 20, 1937
Santa Marta, Colombia
DiedAugust 8, 2008(2008-08-08) (aged 70)
Known forPolitically-charged productions; Black dance

Eleo Pomare (20 October 1937 – 8 August 2008) was a Colombian-American modern dance choreographer. Known for his politically-charged productions depicting the Black experience, his work had a major influence on contemporary dance, especially Black dance. After a tour to Australia in 1972, and the subsequent return of his then lead dancer, Carole Johnson, his style of dancing continues to influence Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander modern dancers.

He founded a dance school, the Eleo Pomare Dance Company, in New York City, which continued after his death.

Early life and education[edit]

Pomare was born on 20 October 1937 in Santa Marta, Colombia. His father, James “Tawny” Forbes, was the captain of a cargo ship that was subject to a torpedo attack near Colón, Panama, during World War II. Pomare was with his father at the time, aged six years old, and afterwards went to live with his mother, Mildred Pomare Lee, in Panama. His sister Selina Forbes Pomare was born June 19, 1940, in Santa Marta, Colombia. In 1947, he was sent on his own to live with an aunt and uncle in New York City, joined by his mother a few years later. He attended New Lincoln School in Harlem.[1]

He later attended New York's High School of Performing Arts, and was mentored by Verita Pearson before graduating in 1953. At this time he also taught dance himself, to young people at the Police Athletic League (PAL).[1]


Pomare founded a dance company in 1958, but dismantled it to travel to Europe to study and perform with Kurt Jooss and Harold Kreutzberg[2] in Essen, Germany, on a John Hay Whitney scholarship. After leaving the Jooss school, he re-established the Eleo Pomare Dance Company based in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and became popular in Europe.[1]

He returned to the United States in 1964, when he revived and expanded his company.[2] The company performed at the Waltann School of Creative Arts in Brooklyn in November 1967.[3]

In 1968 (or earlier?[4]), Pomare, along with Carole Johnson and others, formed the Association of Black Choreographers, and founded The Feet, a magazine for black dancers.[1]


An important work was Gin. Woman. Distress., a three-part solo dance, to the songs of Bessie Smith. It depicts the slow deterioration of a homeless woman. Pomare choreographed the work for Elizabeth Cameron Dalman in New York during 1966, and it was widely toured by Dalman in Europe and Australia from 1966 to 1987. The work was also taught to Johnson, who performed it in Adelaide in 1972.[4]

One of the company's signature pieces developed by Pomare was called Blues for the Jungle (1966), originally titled Harlem Moods, as it depicted life in Harlem, New York. First performed in Amsterdam, the work is in three parts: Underworld, From Prison Walls, and Dat Day. Other productions in the 1960s included Missa Luba in 1965 and Las Desenamoradas in 1967 (based on Federico García Lorca's play The House of Bernarda Alba set to "Olé" by John Coltrane).[4]

In 1986, in honour of Nelson Mandela, Pomare created Morning Without Sunrise, set to music by Max Roach.[1]


The company toured to Adelaide, South Australia, in 1972, to perform at the Adelaide Festival of Arts.[5] Dancers on the tour were: Carole Johnson, Roberta Pikser, Jennifer Barry, Frank Ashley, Strody Meekins, Martial Roumain, Henry Yu Hao Yen, Lillian Coleman, Dyane Harvey and Carole Simpson.[6]

Pomare came to the attention of Aboriginal Australian activists after refusing to perform at Chequers Theatre,[7] situated in the suburb of Nailsworth, north of Adelaide city centre.[6] Pomare deemed it unsafe for the type of performance, and an inferior venue, and he insisted that his company be treated with respect. The powers that be ensured that equipment and props were moved to the Warner Theatre in King William Street, in time for the performance the following day.[7] Pomare upset the box office manager by giving his allocation of orchestra seats away to some Aboriginal people who wanted to see the performance but had not been able to get tickets. The company performed Blues for the Jungle on this tour, which, according to Johnson, "really excited the blacks who saw for the first time how the contemporary arts could be used to convey relevant social messages". Johnson also performed Gin. Woman. Distress. on the tour.[4] The company also toured to Sydney, supported by the Australia Council for the Arts. Johnson went on to run a workshop and then start courses for Aboriginal Australians, and headed the Aboriginal Islander Dance Theatre in 1976.[8]

The company also toured toured North America, Europe, Asia, the Caribbean and Africa, performing in Lagos, Nigeria, for FESTAC '77, the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture.[1]

Company manager[edit]

William Moore (1933–1992), African American dance critic, dancer, researcher, and founder of Dance Herald magazine, managed the company at some point, as he did the company of Joan Miller.[9]


Pomare was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1972.[1]

The borough president of Manhattan, David Dinkins, declared 7 January 1987 as Eleo Pomare Day.[1]

Guest dancers[edit]

A November 1983 performance by Leni Wylliams as "Profit Jones" in Radiance of the Dark during the company's 25th anniversary season was reported in a New York Times review as being "show stopping".[10]

Other featured dancers included:[1]

Death and legacy[edit]

Pomare died of cancer in Manhattan, New York,[11] on 8 August 2008.[1]

The Eleo Pomare Dance Company continued after his death.[11] Dancer and choreographer Martial Roumain, who joined the company as a teenager, is responsible for preserving Pomare's work and for future performances of it.[7]

An exhibition celebrating his achievements, entitled The Man, The Artist, The Maker of Artists, was mounted at the National Museum of Dance from 2011 to 2012.[4]

In January 2021, Loris Anthony Beckles, a former member of the Eleo Pomare Dance Company and founder of the Beckles Dancing Company in Dallas, Texas, gave a talk on Pomare's legacy, entitled Dance as activism: Meet Eleo Pomare, a revolutionary artist.[12]

Pomare is often considered the angry black man of modern dance, although he did not consider himself angry or bitter, but that he is rather "telling it like it is".[13] "I'm labeled...angry...because I will not do what they want from a black dancer. They want black exotics... I have something to say and I want to say it honestly, strongly and without having it stolen, borrowed or messed over."[14]

The impact of Pomare as writer, dancer and choreographer has helped many gain an understanding of the black experience.[15] Johnson's work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dancers in Australia, helping to create NAISDA's forerunner in 1975, and subsequent formation of Bangarra Dance Theatre in 1989, carried on Pomare's legacy.[4] Johnson herself said that "Pomare made me the dancer that I am today... I was very technical, which he liked, but he managed to pull all my emotion out". She also said that he had a strong influence in Australia, the legacy of his 1972 visit to Adelaide.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Eleo Pomare: Biography". The HistoryMakers. Includes link to extensive notes summarising the videoed interview. Retrieved 26 August 2022. Eleo Pomare was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 18, 2007.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: others (link) Interview notes
  2. ^ a b Annemarie Bean, A Sourcebook of African-American Performance: Plays, People, Movements, Routledge, 1999, p. 86.
  3. ^ "Production : The Eleo Pomare Dance Company [1967f.01828]". BAM Digital Archive. 12 November 1967. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Fensham, Rachel (10 December 2012). ""Breakin' the Rules": Eleo Pomare and the Transcultural Choreographies of Black Modernity". Dance Research Journal. Cambridge University Press. 45 (1): 41–63. doi:10.1017/s0149767712000253. ISSN 0149-7677.
  5. ^ "Carole Johnson Aboriginal Dance portfolios". New York Public Library Archives. Compiled by Valerie Wingfield, 2013. 2013. Retrieved 29 August 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  6. ^ a b "Eleo Pomare Modern Dance Company : [theatre program], the Adelaide Festival of Arts 1972 [catalogue entry]". WorldCat. Retrieved 1 September 2022.
  7. ^ a b c d "Keepers of the legacy: Eleo Pomare's map of artistic social justice and protest". The University of Newcastle, Australia. 31 May 2021. Retrieved 1 September 2022.
  8. ^ Pollock, Zoe (2008). "National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association". The Dictionary of Sydney. Retrieved 26 August 2022. Attribution 2.0 Australia (CC BY 2.0 AU) licence.
  9. ^ "William Moore papers". New York Public Library Archives. Retrieved 1 September 2022.
  10. ^ Dunning, Jennifer (17 November 1983). "Dance: Celebration for Eleo Pomare". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 26 August 2022.
  11. ^ a b Kisselgoff, Anna (13 August 2008). "Eleo Pomare, dancer and rebel, dies at 70". The New York Times.
  12. ^ "Dance as Activism: Meet Eleo Pomare, A Revolutionary Artist". Art&Seek. Retrieved 1 September 2022.
  13. ^ Emery, Lynne Fauley, Black Dance From 1619 to Today, Princeton Book Co, 1988, p. 300.
  14. ^ Emery (1988), p. 298.
  15. ^ Emery (1988), pp. 298–301.

Birth of Sister: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:6VL4-CD69