What Wendy's Watching: Arthur Mitchell Blazes an International Trail
When Arthur Mitchell set out to prove that African Americans could excel in ballet, there were many skeptics. He not only created a world-class ballet company—Dance Theatre of Harlem—but he launched a discussion about race and ballet that we are still engaged in.
Who was Arthur Mitchell and how did he get the chutzpah to start a (mostly) black ballet company? Now we have a multi-faceted answer in an exhibit at Columbia University titled "Arthur Mitchell: Harlem's Ballet Trailblazer." It's curated by 2016 Dance Magazine Awardee Lynn Garafola, who is considered the foremost American dance historian.
Mitchell grew up in Harlem and became the first black principal at New York City Ballet. He danced beautifully, no matter what genre he was doing. He dazzled audiences with his performances in Balanchine ballets like Agon, The Four Temperaments, Midsummer Night's Dream, Bugaku and many other ballets. Then, inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., he used his own glorious dancing to do something for the civil rights movement. He started DTH with the help of Karel Shook, the ballet teacher he studied with at Katherine Dunham's school. The company traveled all over the world, meeting with a warm reception everywhere.
Allegra Kent and Mitchell in Balanchine's Agon. PC Fritz Peyer
This exhibit contains photos, videos, posters and a costume from Mitchell's vast archives. When you see the photos of Mitchell as a young man, his magnetism jumps off the wall. His beauty, charisma, gorgeous classical dancing—and his bold idea—attracted many talented, hopeful dancers.
Little known facts about Mitchell's life:
• He auditioned for the High School of Performing Arts with a tap dance! (Of course he got in.)
• After his graduation performance, he was offered scholarships at both School of American Ballet and Bennington College, known for its modern dance department. I think you know which path he chose.
• Before joining NYCB, he performed with choreographers Donald McKayle, Sophie Maslow, Dunham protégé Walter Nicks and—quite a surprise—David Vaughan.
Mitchell as the Snake in Todd Bolender's Creation of the World in 1960
The exhibit, presented in collaboration with Columbia's Rare Book & Manuscript Library, will be on view through March 11, 2018.
If "Fosse/Verdon" whet your appetite for the impeccable Gwen Verdon, then Merely Marvelous: The Dancing Genius of Gwen Verdon is the three-course meal you've been craving. The new documentary—available now on Amazon for rental or purchase—dives into the life of the Tony-winning performer and silver-screen star lauded for her charismatic dancing.
Though she's perhaps most well-known today as Bob Fosse's wife and muse, that's not even half of her story. For starters, she'd already won four Tonys before they wed, making her far more famous in the public eye than he was at that point in his career. That's just one of many surprising details we learned during last night's U.S. premiere of Merely Marvelous. Believe us: You're gonna love her even more once you get to know her. Here are eight lesser-known tidbits to get you started.
Every dancer knows that how you fuel your body affects how you feel in the studio. Of course, while breakfast is no more magical than any other meal (despite the enduring myth that it's the most important one of the day), showing up to class hangry is a recipe for unproductive studio time.
So what do your favorite dancers eat in the morning to set themselves up for a busy rehearsal or performance day?
When it comes to dance in the U.S., companies in the South often find themselves overlooked—sometimes even by the presenters in their own backyard. That's where South Arts comes in. This year, the regional nonprofit launched Momentum, an initiative that will provide professional development, mentorship, touring grants and residencies to five Southern dance companies.
You ever just wish that Kenneth MacMillan's iconic production of Romeo and Juliet could have a beautiful love child with the 1968 film starring Olivia Hussey? (No, not Baz Luhrmann's version. We are purists here.)
Wish granted: Today, the trailer for a new film called Romeo and Juliet: Beyond Words was released, featuring MacMillan's choreography and with what looks like all the cinematic glamour we could ever dream of: