Dance Theatre of Harlem, the national and international touring group founded in 1969 and known for its blend of neoclassical and contemporary dance styles, will perform two shows, October 13–14, at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. The company is scheduled to perform George Balanchine’s Valse Fantaisie, Royston Maldoom’s Adagietto #5, Dianne McIntyre’s Change and Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Vessels during the two shows.
The dance company, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year, was founded after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Arthur Mitchell, the first African American principal dancer at the New York City Ballet, was working abroad at the time, but Dr. King’s death inspired him to cofound the company with his mentor, Karel Shook, to provide opportunities for young dancers in Harlem. Over several decades, the company made a place in the ballet world for African American dancers, including principal star Virginia Johnson, who is now the company’s artistic director. Mitchell died in September as the company was beginning celebrations for its upcoming anniversary.
“One of the things that people don’t realize is how many things Arthur Mitchell spearheaded,” said Waverly T. Lucas II, cofounder of Atlanta’s Ballethnic Dance Company and former member of the Harlem troupe. “He was an innovator. He was a visionary. He could see things that others couldn’t. You don’t have that many people in the world who have that vision and have the fortitude to bring it into fruition. He knew he could prove that blacks could do classical ballet and do it well.”
Lucas said many of the lessons he learned from Mitchell — including his attention to detail and the understanding that being a disciplined dancer does not negate one’s artistry, but enhances it — still influence Ballethnic’s practices today.