The Light Fantastic

Tricia in her Whitford Price practice outfit.

“Tricia provided a lot of pleasure to both of our families during those years. When she was six years old she started taking dancing lessons from Whitford Price, a big blonde woman who turned out many dancers who later became well known such as John Butler, a noted choreographer. Whitford almost immediately decided that Tricia had talent and she danced on the stage for the first time in a recital at the Paramount Theatre, wearing a little black and white costume. From then on Mama became interested in Tricia’s dancing and made her many costumes for performances which were attended by the whole family.

Whitford Price dance recital program. Lots of familiar names in small print.

“I, along with Mary and some of my friends, took ballroom dancing lessons from Whitford Price the year I was in ninth grade. John Butler was one of our partners but he didn’t do much for me. Most of my friends had started taking dancing lessons in the sixth grade before we moved back to Greenwood, because they started earlier here than they did in Jackson. Consequently, I always felt awkward even though I am sure they didn’t really know how to dance either. Mama was not the type to give you much encouragement that you could do things as well as anyone else. In fact, she tended to discourage you from learning to swim or dance or play tennis because she would say that the others already knew how.

“I remember wanting to go to a dance at the Country Club in eighth grade and she told me the others would know how to dance and I wouldn’t, so I didn’t go. I later regretted very much not having the courage to just go ahead like everyone else and try all of those things.”

John Butler, who "didn't do much" for Sara as a dance partner.

It’s reassuring to know that there was some talent in our family that required coordination, as the Evanses are simply not noted for athletic ability or lightfootedness. And I’m certain John Butler was no more impressed with Sara than she was with him.

Ed. note: The following is taken from the Oxford Dictionary of Dance. John Butler was, in his time, a very big deal, and to think that it all started with Whitford Price.

Butler, John (b Greenwood, Miss., 29 Sept. 1918, d New York, 11 Sept. 1993). US dancer, choreographer, and ballet director. He studied at the Graham School and at the School of American Ballet. He danced with the Martha Graham company (1945-55), where he inherited some of Merce Cunningham’s roles, and appeared in musicals and on television. In 1944 he appeared on Broadway dancing the lead role of Dream Curly in Agnes de Mille’s Oklahoma! ballet. He founded his own company in 1955 (later renamed American Dance Theater), which toured Europe; it disbanded in 1961. He was best known as a choreographer, both prolific and well-travelled, and enjoyed a higher reputation in Europe than in the US. He was one of the first dancemakers to marry classical ballet and modern dance. He choreographed for Broadway, New York City Opera, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Australian Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Batsheva Dance Company, Harkness Ballet, Metropolitan Opera, New York City Ballet, Netherlands Dance Theatre, Paris Opera Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. He choreographed the world premiere of Menotti’s The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore (1956), later taken into the repertoire of New York City Ballet, and frequently collaborated with Menotti. He made Carmina Burana for New York City Opera in 1959, staging it for Netherlands Dance Theatre in 1962, and for Pennsylvania Ballet in 1966. Carmina Burana became his most popular work, produced by more than 30 companies. After Eden (mus. Lee Hoiby, 1967), a pas de deux created for the Harkness Ballet, also achieved widespread success. Portrait of Billie, based on the life of the blues singer Billie Holiday, was choreographed for Carmen de Lavallade and himself in 1960 and premiered at the Newport Jazz Festival. It was taken into the repertoire of the Ailey company in 1974. At the Spoleto Festival in 1975 he choreographed Medea for Fracci and Baryshnikov, the first new work created for the Russian following his defection to the West; Medea was taken into the ABT repertoire in 1976. He was dance director for Menotti’s annual Spoleto festival, and choreographed Menotti’s television opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, in 1951. He also choreographed for television and for ice shows. A noted teacher, he counted Lar Lubovitch and Glen Tetley among his pupils. 

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About sec040121

Hello....I'm in possession of a priceless collection of memoirs and memorabilia left by my mother, Sara Evans Criss. She was a native and lifelong (88 years!) devotee of our small town, who covered this peculiar and volatile corner of the world for 30 years as the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Greenwood bureau chief, a job that started out with debutantes and high school football and wound up spang in the midst of one of the twentieth century's most enduring social upheavals. This blog is dedicated to her memory and the legacy she left behind, both for her family and her community.
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