Leona Wood (1921 - 2008)
Leona Wood - Los Angeles Music Center, late 1960s
source: Habibi magazine
Leona Wood performing a Tadjik dance. Photo: Philip Harland 1965
Leona Wood (May 21, 1921 – February 7, 2008) was a 20th-century American painter, dancer, writer and co-founder of the Aman International Folk Ensemble. Her early paintings were considered a part of the Surrealism school.
Leona Wood - the Painter
Wood's paintings were exhibited in the Lane Galleries in Westwood, California for over a quarter of a century. Although she stopped showing shortly after her husband’s death in 1980, she continued to paint even more prolifically. During this time, she produced paintings on a wide range of themes, including Venetian maskers and mythological scenes.
watch her artwork:
Leona Wood - the Dancer
Aman Folk Ensemble in Ouled Nail dance from Algeria. Front row: left, Ronda Berkeley, and right, Michelle Gerard, c. 1977.
Leona was born on May 21, 1921 in Seattle. As a child, she studied ballet and also learned Caucasian folk dances.
In the 1960s, the Harlands were active in the UCLA Department of Ethnomusicology, where Philip Harland (Leona Wood`s husband) was teaching drumming. When Harland began playing at Middle Eastern venues, Wood learned Middle Eastern dance in order to accompany him. Before long, the Harlands formed Friends of Arabic Music, a music and dance group, and they became a feature in the Westwood folk dance world.
The Harlands' group often performed with a recreational group called the Village Dancers, led by Tony Shay. He found her to be a "mesmerizing, spectacular performer" and urged her to join forces. In 1965, they co-founded the Aman International Folk Ensemble. Aman was the first local dance company to be presented at the Los Angeles Music Center. Los Angeles Times music and dance critic Martin Bernheimer called Aman "one of the finest ethnic companies anywhere. Repeat: anywhere."
In 1978, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra engaged Aman to dance to their performances of several compositions based on folk themes, and in 1979, the company made its debut in New York.
Inspired by her involvement with costume design for the company, Wood began painting Middle Eastern dancers and their milieu in the style of 19th century Orientalist painters.
Wood taught courses on Middle Eastern dance in a cultural context at UCLA extension, and continued to participate in UCLA's Department of Ethnomusicology for many years. She wrote numerous articles on Middle Eastern and other forms of dance. These articles appeared in scholarly publications, magazines and on record and CD covers.