DTH rehearsing a new work by Claudia Schreier. Photo by Rachel Papo
As Dance Theatre of Harlem turns 50, Arthur Mitchell's company has proven to be just as tenacious and resilient as he was. At times it looked like it wouldn't make it. But with the spirit of the phoenix it rises again.
Every member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem family can recite co-founder Arthur Mitchell's credo, "You represent something larger than yourself." Whether consciously or not, they all move through the world accordingly. Mitchell often remarked that "I don't have no dumb dancers," and he took pride in the fact that after being at DTH, dancers could be successful in any field they entered.
PT Elizabeth Harrison works with her former company, Nashville Ballet. Photo by Martin O'Connor Photography, Courtesy Harrison
It's fall 2009, and I'm standing in Andy Blankenbuehler's midtown office where he, Lin-Manuel Miranda and others are working on their next show, Bring It On: The Musical. Already it's clear that Miranda/Blankenbuehler collaborations are just daring enough to be groundbreaking. Blankenbuehler hands me a note scribbled on a page from the script.
In that moment, I realize I've found my place in the dance world—as a writer, telling the stories of the artistic greats.
Kaleena Miller Dance. Photo by Dan Norman, Courtesy Cowles Center
In what seems to be a growing trend, regional companies are coming together to share stages and expand their audiences. These team-ups often go beyond split bills, with companies swapping choreographers and performing at least one joint work. While the logistics of co-presentations can be complicated—with more dancers to schedule, budgets to balance and creative visions to blend—the benefits can range from bigger box-office returns to lasting relationships for the artists.
A.I.M in Andrea Miller's state. Photo by Steven Schreiber, Courtesy Google Arts & Culture
Raise your hand if you've ever gotten sucked down an informational rabbit hole on the internet. (Come on, we know it's not just us.) Now, allow us to direct you to this new project from Google Arts & Culture. To celebrate Black History Month, they've put together a newly curated collection of images, videos and stories that spotlights black history and culture in America specifically through the lens of dance—and it's pretty much our new favorite way to pass the time online.
The International Association of Blacks in Dance's annual audition for ballet dancers of color. Photo by E. Mesiyah McGinnis, Courtesy IABD
A newly launched initiative hopes to change the face of ballet, both onstage and behind the scenes. Called "The Equity Project: Increasing the Presence of Blacks in Ballet," the three-year initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is a partnership between Dance Theatre of Harlem, the International Association of Blacks in Dance and Dance/USA.
"We've seen huge amounts of change in the years since 1969, when Dance Theatre of Harlem was founded," says Virginia Johnson, artistic director of DTH. "But change is happening much too slowly, and it will continue to be too slow until we come to a little bit more of an awareness of what the underlying issues are and what needs to be done to address them."
On Monday night, a memorial was held at Riverside Church to honor the life and achievements of Dance Theatre of Harlem co-founder Arthur Mitchell. With nearly three months to process and grieve (Mitchell passed away on September 19) the atmosphere was not that of mourning as much as reflection, reverence and admiration for who he was, what he built and what remains. (Watch the full livestream here.)
The church filled with family, artistic friends, fans and admirers. What was most gratifying was the volume of DTH alumni from the school, company and organization who traveled across the globe to pay their respects, from founding members to present dancers and students. The house of worship was filled with the sentiment of a family reunion. As Mitchell was sent home, it was a homecoming for many who have not shared air together in decades. What was palpable was the authentic bonds that Dance Theatre of Harlem and Mitchell fostered in all.
Anna Rogovoy in her dual roles of toy shop manager and dancer/choreographer. Left photo by Olympia Shannon; right photo by Kathryn Butler
Few dancers are able to make a comfortable living from their creative pursuits alone. Many rely on non-dance freelance work or multiple part-time gigs, fearing that a full-time job would take too much time away from their dancing. However, plenty of artists manage to balance full-time day jobs with fulfilling dance careers, opting for the security, benefits and opportunity to learn new skills.
Arthur Mitchell was always aware of his charm. Photo courtesy Dance Magazine Archives
Last Wednesday, Dance Theatre of Harlem co-founder and ballet pioneer Arthur Mitchell died. He was 84 years old and, though vibrant and tenacious as ever, this past year the toll that illness and age were taking on him was visible.
In October when he hosted "An Informal Performance on the Art of Dance" to celebrate the donation of his archives to Columbia University's Rare Book & Manuscript Library and the upcoming Wallach Art Gallery Exhibition, he shared that his recent hip surgery left him requiring a shoe with a lift. He acknowledged his "altered state" with panache, that side-eyed smirk catching the light with a cheek bone, and ending with a chuckle that broadened to a dazzling open-mouthed smile.
Mr. Mitchell's acute awareness of his pulchritude and charm, and the adroit manner in which he wielded them, have always been key factors of his influence.
Dance Theatre of Harlem's Alison Stroming in a Capezio leotard (via capezio.com)
There's a change in the air these past few weeks—is it fall? Not quite yet. More importantly, it's PUMPKIN SPICE SEASON. And now, the quintessentially autumnal flavor isn't just for lattes anymore. Dancewear companies are picking up on the trend, offering more and more pieces in rich, sweet orange shades. Behold, eight of our favorite pumpkin spice-inspired pieces for your dancing enjoyment.
Arthur Mitchell encourages Mister Rogers to try some basic ballet positions. A screenshot from episode 1574.
The late pioneering dancer Arthur Mitchell was an iconin the dance world—as well as a touchstone in popular culture. Not only did he break boundaries at New York City Ballet, where he performed under Balanchine as a black male principal, but he also went on to co-found Dance Theatre of Harlem. But his international acclaim wasn't limited to the stage: Mitchell and DTH were featured in a special 1987 episode of "Mister Rogers Neighborhood," bringing ballet into living rooms across America.
Arthur Mitchell and Diana Adams in George Balanchine's Agon. Photo courtesy DM Archives
Former New York City Ballet principal dancer and Dance Theatre of Harlem founder Arthur Mitchell passed away today in a Manhattan hospital. He was 84 years old.
Mitchell originated the role of Puck in Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Oleaga Photography, Courtesy DM Archives
As a leading dancer with NYCB in the 1950s and '60s, Mitchell became indelibly associated with two roles created on him by George Balanchine: the central pas de deux in Agon (1957) and Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1962). Mitchell's performance of the athletic, entwining Agon pas de deux with Diana Adams—a white woman—caused a major stir during a moment in which America was rife with racial tension.
Lauren Post unwinds by sewing pointe shoes in the tub. Photo via Instagram/@laurencpost
Let's face it. Dancers just do things differently. We can never walk down a grocery aisle—we have to tap. We can never simply pick something up we've dropped—without going into a penché. But it's not a bad thing. We love all the ways that dance bleeds into our daily lives.
Turns out the pros aren't ever really off-duty either. Here's how we caught them dancing through their downtime.