Ava LaVonne Vinesett

Associate Professor of the Practice in the Program in Dance

Director of Undergraduate Studies

External address: 205 Bivins Bldg, Durham, NC 27708
Internal office address: Box 90686, Durham, NC 27708-0686
Phone: (919) 660-3354
Email: ava@duke.edu


The transmission of danced legacies and the identification of their evolutionary presence in contemporary venues are the primary underpinnings of my artistic work. The physical articulation of cultural beliefs is the space from which I continue to research, choreograph, and perform in order to contribute to creating deeper expressions of the living art of African dance forms and their connection to personal/group identity. My research continues to examine how African and African-derived dance unfolds its many identities. Dance is an expression of perseverance and is a creative continuation of cultural mores. As a symbol of survival, dance both embodies and transmits traditions. These time honored, well established dances provide a means for present day access to, and direct experience with earlier traditions which oftentimes only exist in the context of dance related rituals. The unfolding identity of dance creates a framework for analyzing the aesthetic, technical, ceremonial, spiritual, and sacred tenets that layer traditional African and African-derived dance forms. This concept provides the foundation for several of my completed projects and it continues to shape the thematic content of present works. I coined the term “dance translator” to address my process of examining my personal voice in dance. Using my body as text, I am able to communicate an existing legacy of danced religious, spiritual, and cultural beliefs.

Education & Training

  • M.F.A., University of North Carolina at Greensboro 1998

  • B.A., North Carolina Central University 1987

Soli. Choreographer, Restager. (2006)

Among the Susu and Malinke groups of West Africa, the progression of life is observed as a festive occasion. The annual initiation ceremony begins and concludes with social dancing and music. Soli is one of several rhythms played during this period. Created for the Duke African Repertory Ensemble. Restaged for Elon University Dance Department. March 2006. Music: Fahali Igbo, Richard Vinesett, Musical Director DARE. Costumes: Balubas

Manjani. Choreographer. (2005)

December 3, 2005 - April, 2005. Master class and audition of 48 students for work to be set in the spring

Crossing the Color of the Sky. Choreographer. (2005)

Visual installation by Cici Stevens. Bottle trees have long been used to guide wayward spirits. This African tradition became a part of Southern African-American practice. For some, the bottles petition benevolent, ancestral spirits for protection and good wishes. For others, the blue bottles protect families from tormented and dangerous souls. The spirits are lured by the beguiling radiance of the bottles and like the wind, the moan of these ancestral voices both agitate and calm. Created for the Duke African Repertory Ensemble. Length: 15 minutes

Seruba. Choreographer. (2005)

An original work featuring 12 women singing, dancing and playing traditional “jun-jun” drums. For this work six drums were commissioned by drum craftsman, Ayinde Nataka. An ensemble work for the 16 member Duke African Repertory Ensemble. Length: 27 minutes.

Common Ground. Director. (2004)

January 5, 2004 - June 2, 2004. Ronald K. Brown Choreographic Project. This project culminated in the new work "Common Ground" which premiered in March on the Dance Program's ChoreoLab concert. The Duke University Dance Program received funding from several sources including the National Endowment for the Arts/ National College Choreography Initiative, The Duke University Institute of the Arts, Franklin Humanities Institute, and the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies. The work was also selected for and performed at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage Concert on June 2, 2004, Washington, DC.

Mballax-kat. Choreographer. (2004)

Mballax-kat refers to an individual who dances and plays the popular Senegalese rhythm, sabar. The dance layers a second dance style, Sunu to create a new listening experience for the observer, as well as a complex understanding of the choreography for the dancer. Created for the Duke African Repertory Ensemble. Length: 11 minutes

Artistic Visions of Aché and Rhythms of Life Summer Jam. Director. (2003)

A pilot program/festival bringing together dancers, musicians, vendors and other artisans for a shared performance and community gathering.

Dun-dun ba. Choreographer, Restager. (2003)

Originally choreographed as part of a larger work by Guinea national, Pele Camara for the Chuck Davis African- American Dance Ensemble (1988), Chuck Davis granted me permission to re-stage and contribute new choreography. Although Dundun ba is widely known as “the dance of the strong men”, here the powerful contributions of women are celebrated for their influence on a tradition that continues to evolve. An ensemble work for the 14 member Duke African Repertory Ensemble. Length: 12 minutes.

Manjani. Choreographer. (2003)

This fast paced piece displays a very popular Mande dance and music tradition from the Bamana people of West Africa. Through athleticism, creativity, and a full understanding of the multi-metered rhythm text that is Manjani, 14 dancers and musicians from the Duke African Repertory Ensemble express the vitality of this artistic form. Length: 13 minutes.

Jalidon. Choreographer. (2002)

Choreographer. Jalidon is a collaborative work with the 149th generation oral historian, or "jali", Djimo Kouyate. This work was set on the 17 member, Duke African Repertory Ensemble. Richard Vinsett, Musical Director. Length: 13 minutes.


Kunda. Choreographer. (2000)

Ensemble work for DARE. 21 dancers and musicians. Dances presented from the Old Mali Empire (Ku-ku, and Dun- dunbah). Special guests: The Duke Djembe Ensemble, directed by Bradley Simmons. Length: 24 minutes.

Duke African Repetory Ensemble Performances. Creator, Director. (1999)

1999-Present. The DARE combines the talents of Duke alumnae, current Duke undergraduate and graduate students, Duke faculty and staff, and Durham residents who cover a wide scope of professions. DARE is able to represent a unique and strong commitment to the preservation of African dance.

Passages. Choreographer. (1997)

43 students and community dancers from my technique I & II classes performing dances from the Mande traditions; Temate, Ekon-kon, Sorsonet, and Manjani. Music by Richard J. Vinesett, Bradley Simmons and community drummers. Length: 17 minutes.