Arthur Mitchell The Man behind DTH
Arthur Mitchell, the man who was behind the making of Dance Theatre of Harlem started off his ballet dancing career in 1955, when he was chosen for the New York City Ballet by Lincoln Kirsten and George Balanchine. Being an African-American, this was a historical pre-civil rights act. After that, the course of American ballet future changed for good. Balanchine specifically choreographed roles for Mitchell, which included Puck from A Midsummer Nights Dream and pas de deux from Agon. For fifteen years following that, Mitchell was the principal dancer of NYCB. With the injected passion of the Civil Rights Movement, he along with Karel Shook decided to form Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1969. They dreamed of promoting the ballet culture within New York.
The Dawn of Idealism in Ballet World
Dipped in the roots of Civil Rights Movement, Dance Theatre of Harlem was formed in 1969 in the garage of 152nd Street, Harlem. It started off as a dancing school where the classes were held every day for the community of New York, where Mitchell himself had grown up. The aim behind the organization was to provide training and opportunity to the school going students, who were seeking a career in performing arts. A new venture by the name of Open House Series was started back then, which included informal performances by the students of the company as well as the guest artists. It has become a sort of a tradition since then, and the series continues even today.
Eventually, Mitchell and Shook decided to start an outreach educational program, which was named Art Exposure. This consisted of workshops and lectures which were arranged at different public schools, universities and colleges. As the company grew, more skilled dancers became a part of it, which eventually led to the debut performance of Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1971, at Guggenheim Museum, New York City.
By 1979, DTH had come a long way, and had already embarked on an international tour, staged three Broadway seasons and received fame for its public TV show Great Performances Dance in America. Its repertoire extended to 46 ballets and percussion and choral ensembles were also formed. In the course of only one decade, the company had already achieved a lot more than any in its competition.
International Exposure and Three Decades
The 80s brought further more critical acclaim and several new productions for Dance Theatre of Harlem. To name a few performances, Firebird, Creole Giselle, Agon, Dougla and Bugaku had already earned a lot of fame. The performances were received well by the critics not only because of the skilled dancers, but also because of the brilliant costumes and inspiring sets. It became the very first American opera to tour to Russia and perform there to public acclaim.
As the 90s dawned, the success journey of Dance Theatre of Harlem continued. The founders stuck to their mission of educating people and promoting performing arts awareness within the New York City. On the companys 30th anniversary, it was inducted into National Museum of Dance, along with Arthur Mitchell, who was celebrating his 50th year in the world of performing arts. Dance Theatre of Harlem continues to stage new and innovative shows within New York as well as across the world.