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About Les Watanabe

"les has worked with the most legendary dancers of our time and continues to promote the art form elevated to it's highest level of sophistication.  Les is respected worldwide and is a revered master of his craft"  

 - Terry Brock - Legendary tap dancer and educator.

"His creative genius is transferred to every project he chooses to take on; a complicated work that integrates complex choreography with photography and video.  It has been said by many that there is a brilliance to everything les touches."  

 - Julane Stites - Artistic Director of Dance West

Les Watanabe in Alvin Ailey's Reflections in D.  New York

Les Watanabe is a NTT Assistant Professor at Western Oregon University, where he teaches Ballet, Modern and Dance Seminar.  Also, an Adjunct Prof at Univ. of Portland.  Les Watanabe received his B.F.A in dance from California Institute of the Arts and his M.F.A. from UC Irvine as a Chancellor's Fellow. He has been Artist in Residence at: University of Oregon, University of California-Irvine, University of Arizona, University of Maryland, Portland State University, Theater An Der Wien in Vienna, Austria, Xuchang Univ. in China and the Rotterdam Academy in the Netherlands. Les has also taught master classes at dance festivals in France, Austria, The Netherlands, German and Spain.


In addition to his expansive career as a dance educator, Mr. Watanabe has had an illustrious career as a performer. He performed as soloist for such companies as: Donald McKayle’s Inner City Repertory Company, Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, Joyce Trisler’s Danscompany, Alvin Ailey II, Burch Mann Folk Ballet, Sachiyo Ito Japanese Dance Company, L.A. Jazz, and with Peter Goss Dance Company in Paris, France. Performances in theater and television include: Hal Prince and Stephen Sondheim's Broadway production of Pacific Overtures, The Who's Tommy, Leonard Bernstein's Mass, Alvin Ailey Presents Duke Ellington CBS special , the Bill Cosby Shows, Academy Awards, Emmy Awards, French variety television and a national tour with Rita Moreno's (‘Westside Story’) The Act.


As a choreographer, Mr. Watanabe is known for his eclectic and stylistic dynamism.  His theatrical credits include: Pajama Game, Blood Wedding, Company, Journey, Rhinocerous (Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts), Midsummer Night's Dream, Guys and Dolls, Beethoven n' Pierott (Denver Center Theatre Company); Judy Garland (St. Pölten Stadt Theater in Austria); Gift of the Magi (Cleveland Playhouse).

His concert work known for it's brilliance and innovative juxtapositions has been presented both nationally and in Europe to great aclaim.  He was nominated for the American Choreographers Award for Luna which  he set for Djazzex in the Netherlands  and toured Europe for 1 year.  His Milonga and Tablao Flamenco were the highlights at the NHSDF.  Cantes de Ida y Vuelta was commissioned by Donald McKayle for UC Irvine's 50th anniversary and the Lester Horton Festival in Los Angeles.  Other works include:  Whispers, Taiko, Drum, Poem (Univ of Oregon), For Your Love, Accumulation, Rain..Wind..Light, Autumn, (Portland Festival Ballet), I Wish & Tango (Oregon Senate) commissioned by Dance West, Love Songs (Fertile Ground Festival) in Portland, OR.  Journey and Bonsai (presented at Helsinki Film Festival),  Cityscape (video portrait of Portland, OR), Dance Promotional for Western Oregon University.

For the past 15 years, Mr. Watanabe was also the director for Cine-Dance Productions, a video/photography company specializing in dance performance, promotionals and studio portraits.




        CBS SPECIAL - NY 1974





The teachers who are the most influential in his career are:

Janice Gudde Plastino, PH.D, who as his first teacher was the most influenctial in my becoming a dancer.  First at Harbor Jr. College and then at UC Irvine, she gave me encouragement to try and said to me that if I "worked hard for 10 years I could make it."

Donald McKayle, who as a mentor exemplified the highest ideals as a teacher, choreographer and human being.  Donald has given thousands of dancers their 'rite of passage.'  I count myself as one of those.

Jaime Rogers who exhibited a sublime talent and above all a true love of dance.  His legendary classes in L.A. were my 'finishing school.'

The great Eugene Loring who once said that "dance is difficult but your committment to dance IS your security."  Through this ever winding road that is the dance career, I carried his words close to my heart and it gave me strength and a trust that giving one's all would bring light and fulfillment.  A magical world are what his words brought.

Les Watanabe & Martina Young in Donald McKayle's

Rainbow Round MY Shoulder

Inner City Cultural Center Co. L.A.

Janice Gudde Plastino & Les

UC Irvine - 1993

Poster of Donald McKayle & Carmen Delavallade in Rainbow Round My Shoulder.   

Restaged by Les Watanabe for Univ. of Arizona.  

"Fine artists including Leslie Watanabe, Stephanie Powell, Amy Sennet Starnar and Randall Smith have years of experience re-staging Mr. McKayle's works both nationally and internationally."

- Requests for choreographic works (restaged).  Donald McKayle.


Les Watanabe & Eugene Loring in rehearsal.  UC Irvine.  1968. Photographer:  Unknown

Donald McKayle & Jaime Rogers

after an L.A. Jazz Com performance.  L.A.

Photographer: Les Watanabe

Jaime Rogers teaching men's class.  L.A. 1980.  Photographer: Diane Schroeder.

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