DANCE THEATRE OF HARLEM
April 12, 2019
When Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, Arthur Mitchell, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, turned on his heels and ran in a startling new direction. With George Balanchine’s blessings, Mitchell and Karel Shook founded a school and then a ballet company for African American dancers. Armed with free access to a number of Balanchine’s ballets, Mitchell’s dream came true.
This year, the Dance Theatre of Harlem is celebrating their 50th year anniversary at City Center and venues across the nation. Elegantly dressed in a long black gown, Virginia Johnson—Mitchell’s former star ballerina and current Artistic Director – welcomed the gala audience and paid tribute to Mitchell who passed September 2018. The great actress and friend of Mitchell, Cecily Tyson in a glorious silver gown, regaled the audience with a rich description of how committed Mitchell was to making change in the world of ballet and universe.
When the dancing began, the audience was treated to a collection of excerpts from popular works like Robert Garland’s “ballet meets funk” ballet Mother Popcorn; a phalanx of students dancers in Augustus van Heerden’s Passacaglia; the great Louis Johnson’s roots-based Forces of Rhythm; Balanchine’s masterful Agon pas de deux (created on Mitchell); Petipa’s high-flying showpiece Le Corsaire Pas De Deux; John Taras’ exhilarating Firebird; and Mitchell’s animated The Greatest.
The evening wrapped up with a full production of Geoffrey Holder’s sensationally theatrical Douglacolorfully presenting a Trinidadian wedding ritual to a drum-heavy score directed by Tania Leon. This final work electrified the audience who stood and cheered Dance Theater of Harlem forward to a 100th anniversary.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis