Archiving Fellowships Blog: DCDC, Part 4

By Quentin Sledge

Quentin Sledge was a 2022 Archiving and Preservation Fellow with Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. Read more about the Fellowships here. This is the fourth part of Quentin’s blog. Find the third part here.

November 30, 2022: The Legacy of James Truitte

One of the last interesting projects I worked on in my time as a Fellow was initiating the process of digitizing the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company collection, starting with a box of materials donated by Mr. James Truitte. I started by taking the box of Truitte materials to the Dayton Metro Library downtown to be scanned in the archives department. Rachel, one of my mentors, introduced me to the scanner and allowed me to borrow her staple remover in addition to giving me a bag of plastic clips, both of which proved to be invaluable. I got to work sifting through the box and found myself struggling to make sense of it all. I initially separated it all into different categories: University of Cincinnati (UC) materials which mostly documented Mr. Truitte’s experience with reviewing Professor Lamoli’s renewal process and various events spanning his 17+ years as a member of the faculty; notes about specific Lester Horton works that he restaged such as Oroszco, Salome, and Guernica; various material documenting his time performing with the de Lavallade-Ailey American Dance Company, and a host of material documenting the Horton Technique. 

A black and white photo of two dancers, one crouching with head lowered, the other standing with knees bent and arms outspread.

James Truitte and Minnie Mars performing Revelations, choreographed by Alvin Ailey with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Photo by Jack Mitchell.

“Oh Mr. Truitte…when I came in he was always teaching, he always taught, sometimes twice a week. Every week [we had] Mr. Truitte. And his manner of teaching, which is the actual Horton manner of delivery as well, was very codified and we had a series of work that would happen…He was the one who was very much a stickler for that, that technique and that technique only…He was very much a supporter of Jeraldyne [Blunden]. He wanted to nurture her and to see her succeed and be there to support that and help in any way he could. He did exactly that. He made sure we were well trained and strong…But with that said, oh my god was he funny.” – Sheri “Sparkle” Williams

Jimmy Truitte was at one time in his life a principal dancer of the Lester Horton Dance Theater. Not only had he danced in the company but he worked directly with Mr. Horton in 1952 as he began codifying the Horton Technique, one of the most widespread and well known modern dance styles in American concert dance, aside from ballet. He was a teacher at the Lester Horton Dance Theater school for many years and is credited as maintaining the purest form of the Horton Technique. He worked closely with our founder and taught and choreographed on the company for many years. 

“He traveled with us at times. He was just so worldly and intelligent. He was so well traveled and had stories, stories, stories. I think his role, beside being a teacher and supporter, was he really watched what Jeraldyne presented and saw to it that everything was kosher, that it was well executed and [all] aspects of the presentation were all unified to make the best presentations. I believe if he were to ever see something awry, he would definitely be the person to say so.”– Sheri “Sparkle” Williams

A black and white archival photo with two Black dancers jumping and holding their fists up. A sticky note on the photo identifying the dance and dancers.

A photo of Sheri and Cecil Slaughter in a piece called “The Stack Up” by Talley Beaty

I decided to begin with scanning the UC materials and saving them to the new archive flash drive before then shifting over into a folder with material from the de Lavallade-Ailey American Dance Company. Inside were mostly magazine articles and a few programs documenting his time dancing and touring with the company. The monster of the collection however was spread across multiple folders and binders containing his Horton technique notation material. In a letter to a grant committee Mr. Truitte explained that in 1960 he received a grant to study Labanotation and started to notate the vast Horton vocabulary, a task that he began with Mr. Horton shortly before he died in 1954. He documents the process of applying for additional funding and his efforts to codify this technique which previously had no formal system of notation. In the binders there are several copies of various Horton exercises as he remembers them, syllabi recommendations, and a breakdown of each exercise based on experience level. I was able to restructure the largest binder to include lesson plan, warmup, fortification, prelude and classroom material for each division he designed, be it fundamental, intermediate or advanced. Yet again I felt an interesting sense of connection to Mr. Truitte through his writings. It made me really think about how the things we leave behind are so indicative of our character and the manner in which we live our lives. In preserving his work I oddly felt like I was continuing the work he originally set out to achieve. 

Aside from the Horton notation files I also read a host of very interesting conversations. One in particular was a correspondence between Mr. Truitte and Ana Marie Forsythe, former director of the Ailey/Fordham B.F.A. program and Master teacher of the Horton Technique and teacher certificate process,  in which he reprimands her for not appropriately crediting him in regards to the legacy of Mr. Horton. In the book she co-authored, The Dance Technique of Lester Horton, she listed him as a teacher of the technique and failed to speak of his years performing with the company, teaching for the organization and being trusted to restage material. It was a well written undressing to say the least. I found it brave that he never shied away from speaking his mind when necessary. There was another letter this time dedicated to his friend Alvin Ailey, whom he met at the Horton school. He didn’t mince words about Alvin being the cause of much turmoil in the early Ailey company, which Jimmy joined in 1960 at their third performance at the YWHA, and left in 1968. Although he did say that all was forgiven and that he truly loved and respected him as a friend.

A black and white archival photo of five dancers standing with their hands raised up and one dancer sitting on the floor in front of them. A sticky note on the photo identifies the dance.

A photo of Sheri in a piece called “Take Off” from “A Forced Landing” by Dianne McIntyre

What I surmised from my time reading his thoughts and hearing about his presence first hand from Sheri, was that Mr. Truitte was a being of excellence and humility. His passion for dance and his worldliness have inspired me to push the company to honor his hard work by implementing his training methods and possibly documenting them via video. We have a diamond that has been hidden away awaiting the perfect time to shine. Now that his notes have been digitized I feel confident that I have laid the foundation for the next archivist to continue digitizing the remaining material in the collection. I feel that I have learned so much over the past three months not only about the company but about the tough job of an archivist.  I would like to thank Karen D. Brame, my primary mentor at the Dayton Metro Library for our many talks and her advice on how to solve many of my knowledge gaps. I would like to thank Hallie and Imogen from the Dance/USA Archiving team for their excellent guidance, training, and support. And I would really like to thank DCDC for trusting me to bring some order to the precious material we have. This has been enriching and honestly life changing.

Banner photo: Dayton Contemporary Dance Company performing The Geography of the Cotton Fields, choreographed by Donald Byrd. Photo courtesy of DCDC. All photos courtesy of Dayton Contemporary Dance Company.

A Black man in a purple costume leaps with arms outspread, facing left.Quentin ApolloVaughn Sledge attended Morehouse College from 2010-2014 and earned a BA in management. He joined the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company in 2014 and has worked with a multitude of icons including Mr. Donald McKayle, Francesca Harper, Donald Byrd, Ray Mercer, Ron K. Brown and many more. He has taught and performed all over he world in theaters such as the Joyce, Lincoln Center, and Bolshoi. In 2016, he was a soloist in the Bessie awarded revival of Donald McKayle’s “Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder” as well. Quentin is a certified teacher of the Lester Horton, Talawa African, and the Umfundalai dance techniques and serves as a dance liaison on DCDC’s board. Quentin is very excited to serve in this new role as archivist for DCDC and looks forward to the growth that learning new skills brings. He is dedicated to preserving the vital history of such a historic company.


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