Renowned dancer, choreographer, dance educator and actress, former Dean of the Dance Department at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) and a person who has danced with every icon of the American modern dance movement of the 20th century.

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Cristyne Lawson (born Christine Lawson May 31, 1935 Santa Monica, CA), father, Hilliard C. Lawson (second black City Council member in Santa Monica, CA) and mother Bernice Stout Lawson (classical pianist). At an early age Cristyne really wanted to take ballet classes, but those in her town that were teaching ballet (all white) feared that others would not come to the classes if there was a black person in the class (1940's time period), except for one brave soul that happened to be a pioneer of American modern dance, Ruth St. Denis, so she begin her dance training at age 6 under that pioneer of American modern dance. Around 11-12 years old she would perform during the costume changes of Ruth St. Denis' shows. She initially attended Santa Monica High School (Samohi) and then on to Los Angeles High School where she participated in the dance program and performed with the school’s Orchesis Club.

Accepted to Juilliard, she was a member of the first Juilliard Dance Company, she took a break from Juilliard to go on a worldwide nine-month tour with Martha Graham Dance Company, 1955. Lawson continued to do projects as a dance company member with the Graham Dance Company, she is also one of the original Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater company members, performing in Ailey’s first concert in 1958 at the 92nd Street Y, NYC, as well was dance partner and early collaborator with Alvin Ailey. Also during the 1950s' she worked on Broadway where she and Alvin Ailey had leading roles in “Jamaica” (Original Broadway Production 1957) starring Lena Horne and Ricardo Montalban, the Broadway Production of "House of Flowers" (1954). She performed in the American musical films “Carmen Jones” (1954) starring Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte and “Porgy and Bess” (1959) starring Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge with Sammy Davis Jr., Pearl Bailey, Brock Peters and Diahann Carroll. In 1962 she played Mary in the oringinal New York cast, production and Europe tour of Langston Hughes' retelling of the Christmas nativity story, "Black Nativity."

She also toured Europe with the Modern Jazz Quartet, it was in Europe where she met her husband (an Australian architect and dancer) and they had two children. As an actress she appeared in the block buster British musical film "Summer Holiday" (1963) starring Cliff Richard and Lauri Peters. A choreographer for the British film "She" (1965) starring Ursula Andress with Peter Cushing and Bernard Cribbins, and assistant choreographer for the British musical film "Wonderful To Be Young!" (1961) starring Cliff Richard with Robert Morley and Carole Gray. Lawson was instrumental in the start and structure of a dance school in England (London Contemporary Dance School). While living in Europe she was asked to come and help start a new school in Buffalo, New York within 'State University of New York at Buffalo' (UB) which brought her back to the United States, where she formed a company ‘Company of Man’ that consisted of dancers and film-makers making multi media films.

She went on to become the first black female Dean of The Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance at CalArts appointed by former CalArts President Robert Fitzpatrick. During her 27 years tenure she elevated the dance department into a game changer in dance education, pioneering an interdisciplinary approach to dance education where dance students collaborate with actors, animators, artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers, she implemented taylored programs where dance students would learn all aspects of production and not just dance and choreography alone that included courses to learn the principles of sound design, costuming and makeup, a two-semester course titled 'Video for Dance,' 'Music for Dance' and a requirement that all third-year undergraduate dance students learn to play a musical instrument, incompassed with the established courses in lighting and arts management. She instituted a curriculum emphasizing real-life experiences.

She ensured the CalArts dance department had stellar full time dance faculty, including Mia Slavenska (Prima ballerina of the Zagreb Opera, soloist and leading ballerina of the famous Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, danced and created principal roles in works by Massine, Nijinska, Lifar, Balanchine and Ashton), Rebecca Wright (Principal ballerina of the Joffrey Ballet as well American Ballet Theatre- ABT), Donald Byrd (Renowned choreographer),Tina Yuan (Of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater), Donna Wood (Soloist Of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater), Rebecca Bobele and Kurt Weinheimer (of Bella Lewitzky Dance Company), Clare Duncan (of London Festival Ballet Company, principal teacher and administrator from the Houston Ballet Academy) and Laurence Blake (of Joffrey Ballet) to name a few.

She created the school's residence dance company (CalArts Dance Ensemble), that consist of the dance faculty and guest, that also toured the U.S. representing the Institute. Created scholarship programs, created student exchange programs between CalArts and London Contemporary Dance School (England) and Beijing Academy of Dance (China). As Dean she consulted on a number of educational programs in the United States, Canada, and Europe, as well produced numerous Institute productions for CalArts to name a few.

To date Lawson continues to consult on dance, performing arts projects and educational programs in the United States and abroad.


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Ruth St. Denis (as Dancer)
Martha Graham Dance Company (as Dancer)
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (as Dancer)
Doris Humphrey (as Dancer)
Black Nativity (as Dancer)
The Story of Christ in Vietnam (Choreography)
Black Ivory (Choreography)
Tale of Hubbub (Choreography)
Still Life (Choreography)
Jargon (Choreography)
Track (Choreography)
Oregone (Choreography)
Danscape 85 (Choreography)
Diane (Choreography)
Sixteen Dances (Choreography)
Minugs Moves (Choreography)
Oya: in praise of the goddess (Choreography)
Video Games (Choreography)
Who Cut The Cheese? (Choreography)
Deux (Choreography)
Riven (Choreography)
9 Ladies On A Bench (Choreography)
Subrosa (Choreography)
Red, White and Blues (Choreography)
Blue Note (Choreography)
Wall To Wall (Choreography)
Steel Life (Choreography)
Chaconne From Partita in D Minor (Choreography)
Fallen Angels (Choreography)
Who Knows Where The Time Goes (Choreography)
Mississippi Goddam (Choreography)
Images (Choreography)
Four Women/When I Was In My Prime (Choreography)
On the Road to Rio (Choreography)

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“Carmen Jones” (1954) American musical film starring Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte. Based on Oscar Hammerstein Jr's lyrics, book and musical of a 1943 World War II era African-Americans, set to music of Georges Bizet's 1875 opera "Carmen." (Performer)

"House of Flowers" (1954-55) Broadway Production starring Pearl Bailey. Two neighboring bordellos that battle for business in an idealized Haitian setting. (Performer)

“Jamaica” (Original Broadway Production 1957) starring Lena Horne and Ricardo Montalban. Set on a small island off the coast of Jamaica, and tells about a simple island community fighting to avoid being overrun by American commercialism. (Performer)

"Porgy and Bess" (1959) American musical film starring Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge with Sammy Davis Jr., Pearl Bailey, Brock Peters and Diahann Carroll. Based on the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin, DuBose Heyward, and Ira Gershwin. (Performer)

"Wonderful To Be Young!" (1961) British film musical starring Cliff Richard, Robert Morley, Carole Gray.The story is about a youth club member, and aspiring singer and his friends, who try to save their youth club in London's West End from an unscrupulous millionaire property developer. (Choreography- Asst)

"Summer Holiday" (1963) British musical film starring Cliff Richard and Lauri Peters. 4 London Bus mechanics with an double-decker bus. They convert the bus into a holiday caravan to drive across continental Europe. On the way, they are joined by a runaway American singer pretending to be male. (Performer)

"She" (1965) British film starring Ursula Andress. based on the 1887 novel by H. Rider Haggard. An expedition into a previously unexplored region of north-east Africa discovering the lost city of Kuma ruled by an immortal queen and high priestess. (Choreography)

Performer/ Choreography

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Modern College- State University of New York at Buffalo (Professor)

Company of Man- State University of New York at Buffalo (Co-Director)

The Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance at CalArts (Dean)

CalArts Student Exchange Program- London Contemporary Dance School, London England (Dean)

CalArts Student Exchange Program- Beijing Academy of Dance, Beijing China (Dean)

CalArts Dance Ensemble (Artistic Director)

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Artistic Director

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