Pearl Primus and Company (~1951-?) Negro Dance Theatre (1954-1955)
Though not much is known about his early life and training, the earliest evidence of Charles Queenan’s performances are those with Pearl Primus and Company in 1951.
Queenan appeared with the company on January 14, 1951 at the 92nd Street Y. The group performed Excerpts from My African Journey, which consisted of two parts featuring dances inspired by Primus’ travels in Africa. The following month, on February 2, he again danced with the company at Hunter College’s Assembly Hall.
On the 13th, Pearl Primus and Company, including Queenan, Primus, Charles Blackwell, and Louis Paschall, performed at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences (now the Brooklyn Museum).*
It was said that Queenan, in Primus’ piece Impinyuza, for which he also adapted the costumes, “[embodied] the essence of the movement and the Watusi culture” (Schwartz).
Queenan’s career branched out into television and Broadway. On May 30, 1953, Queenan appeared as a dancer on The Jackie Gleason Show, in a segment called “Modern Blues”, which was described as a “black street-scene.”
Agnes de Mille featured Queenan in a 1956 film, which she herself narrates. The film shows clips of “ethnic dance,” with Queenan performing a “dance from the Congo.”
As a member of Negro Dance Theatre, Queenan appeared in Aubrey Hitchins’ Italian Concerto in the eighth week of the 1954 season at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. Italian Concerto was a ballet in three movements featuring the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. The following year, Queenan danced the second and fourth episode of Hitchins’ Ode at Jacob’s Pillow. The piece was “inspired by quotations from Aeschylus, Theognis and Sophocles.”
*Though the program of this performance comes from the Brooklyn Institute of Arts & Sciences, the venue is listed as the “Opera House,” most likely that of the Brooklyn Academy of Music.