Rod Audria Rodgers, African-American choreographer and company founder who championed integrating black-identified dance into mainstream concert perfs while freeing up black dancers to move beyond ethnic/tradition-based choreography, died March 24 in Manhattan from stroke complications. He was 64.
Cleveland native was born into a family of dancers, grew up in Detroit, performed in clubs and resorts and learned from teachers who trained with black dance pioneers such as Katherine Dunham and Pearl Primus.
In 1962, he moved to New York City, where he studied with Erick Hawkins, Hanya Holm, Mary Anthony and Charles Weidman before forming the racially mixed experimental Rod Rodgers Dance Company in 1966. (The year before, he was awarded a John Hay Whitney Fellowship, giving him the financial security to work full time as dancer-choreographer.) Company focused on modern dance techniques to show that black dancers need not limit themselves to traditional ethnic styles. Yet he also choreographed works to honor African-Americans such as Langston Hughes (“Langston Lives,” 1981), Martin Luther King Jr. (“The Legacy,” 1984) and George Washington Carver (“Against Great Odds,” 1986).
In addition, he choreographed TV specials, operas and Off Broadway productions.
He was a founder of the Assn. of Black Choreographers, brought dance in the 1960s to children in poor neighborhoods of New York City through the Head Start Program, and was director of the dance project of New York City’s Mobilization for Youth.
He was honored in January by the Intl. Assn. of Blacks in Dance.
Survivors include companion Kim Grier, two brothers, two sisters, four sons and a grandson.