George Faison

George Faison

December 21, 1945 --

Faison was born in Washington, D.C. where he studied dance with the Jones-Haywood Capitol Ballet and Carolyn Tate of Howard University while attending Dunbar High School, and appeared with The American Light Opera Company in Showboat. He entered Howard to study dentistry in 1964, but left in 1966, after a performance by the Alvin Ailey company inspired him to pursue a career in dance.

Faison moved to New York City and became an immediate success in the dance world. That same year, he was chosen as Lauren Bacall's dance partner in a television special. Faison joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1967 as a dancer and remained there through 1969. He left Ailey to begin his own group, George Faison Universal Dance Experience, in 1971. The company's roster of dancers included Debbie Allen, Renee Rose, Gary DeLoatch, and Al Perryman. Faison served as dancer and choreographer, creating original work for the company. One of Faison's best-known works is Suite Otis (1971), set to the music of Otis Redding. The dance is for five couples and combines elements of ballet and contemporary dance. Faison also created pieces with a historical and political bent, among them works inspired by the memory of Malcolm X. Poppy (1971) dealt with the problem of drug addiction.

Faison made his choreographic debut on Broadway with Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope in 1972. In 1974, he choreographed The Wiz, the successful all-black musical retelling of The Wizard of Oz. Faison won a Tony Award for his choreography, the first for an African American in that category. By the mid-1970s the George Faison Universal Dance Experience had disbanded, and Faison was choreographing music concerts for such artists as Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Gladys Knight and the Pips in addition to his work in musical theater. He has choreographed the Nigerian dancer Becky Umeh, among others.

Faison has choreographed more than thirty plays and musicals, including the short-lived Broadway musicals Via Galactica (1973) and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (1976) with music by Leonard Bernstein; a Radio City Music Hall production of Porgy and Bess (1983); and Sing, Mahalia, Sing (1985) at the Shubert Theatre in Philadelphia. He also has worked in television, and in 1989 he conceived and produced the television special Cosby Salutes Ailey for the 30th anniversary of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. He won an Emmy Award for his choreography of the HBO special The Josephine Baker Story (1991).

Since 2000, he has partnered with Hospital Audiences, Inc. on "H.A.I. - The Respect Project."