Robyn Gardenhire, ballet master, and artistic director of City Ballet of Los Angeles hosted an event as a homage to Raven Wilkinson at the historic Ebell of Los Angeles on March 19, 2023. Raven was an American dancer and considered a trail blazer in the field of classical ballet by breaking the color barrier in 1955 and signing a contract to dance full-time with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (today’s iteration Les Ballets de Monte Carlo).
Raven is credited to to being the first African-American woman to dance for a major classical ballet company. She passed on December 17, 2018 at the age of 83 years old. Robyn, who is a trail blazer on her own by starting a scholarship program through CBLA, wanted to honor Raven’s life. One might recognize the famous dancer Misty Copeland, who benefited from one of Robyn’s scholarship that helped to propel her to a stellar ballet career with American Ballet Theater and now as an advocate for dispelling the myth that black and brown people don’t dance ballet and presenting ballet to the public in a less elitist way.
Robyn Gardenhire did an excellent job with demystifying and elevating our knowledge of Raven Wilkinson’s life by the event at the Ebell. Near the entrance one was greeted with a slide presentation of Raven’s beautiful dance moments and historical information on her life. Later in the event while attendees were seated in the grand hall three lovely dancers from LA County High School and Colburn School performed excerpts from Les Sylphides for which Raven was known for. Ariyan Johnson, a dance historian and assistant professor at UC Irvine gave a lecture. And as a grand finale a toast was held to honor the spirit of this mover and shaker of the classical ballet world, Raven Wilkinson.
Photographs below by Julie Hopkins of Camera Creations Photography in Los Angeles
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