Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) is a leading dance institution of unparalleled global acclaim, encompassing a performing ensemble, a leading arts education center and dancing through barriers was back in impressive form. It was a sign of America’s enduring love for the country’s first African American ballet company, which is making a comeback after eight years on hiatus due to a more than $2 million debt, was now ready to return center stage.
The artist director, a former DTH principal dancer Virginia Johnson, charged by Arthur Mitchell himself with resurrecting the company, called it “a very exciting moment in history” for the 44-year-old troupe. “This is the new Dance Theatre of Harlem,” said Johnson, who returned in 2010 to the company and its school, which remained in operation over the hiatus. “It’s brand new, but everyone understands the legacy and what it means to preserve this work. “When the company stopped touring in 2004, Johnson said the pause was intended to last only for a matter of months. However, given economic recession and the ongoing challenge of funding dance these days, the closure stretched to eight years. Now revived, with almost the entire administrative staff made up of former DTH dancers, it has renewed its commitment to the distinct blend of classical ballet and African American cultural dance that earned it renown.
Founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook, Dance Theatre of Harlem was considered “one of ballet’s most exciting undertakings” (The New York Times, 1971). Shortly after the assassination of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mitchell was inspired to start a school that would offer children — especially those in Harlem, the community in which he was born — the opportunity to learn about dance and the allied arts. Now in its fourth decade, Dance Theatre of Harlem has grown into a multi-cultural dance institution with an extraordinary legacy of providing opportunities for creative expression and artistic excellence that continues to set standards in the performing arts. Dance Theatre of Harlem has achieved unprecedented success, bringing innovative and bold new forms of artistic expression to audiences in New York City, across the country and around the world.
The process of ‘rebuilding’ proved to be a major success for the company. The pointe work of the women and the exceptional partnering by the men places the company in the top ranks of balled companies, not just Black companies.While it has shrunk from 44 dancers to a mere 18, all but two of whom are new, the company showed it has lost none of the unique hybrid style and technical sophistication that earned it a following from the moment of its founding, by former New York City Ballet principal Mitchell, in 1969. Because of its limited size, the company will not perform some of the larger-scaled story ballets in its past repertoire, such as an original “Firebird” and “Giselle.” But its commitment to its lineage of classical ballet and to the “energy, direction, vitality and precision” George Balanchine introduced to the art form at New York City Ballet will continue to be a directional force.
This was a phenomenal performance. The performers executed each piece beautifully. I was engulfed in the outstanding scores of music and the precise yet graceful movement of the dancers. They performers are quite varied in their capabilities and each dancer has that special ” thing” they do to keep you engaged. The music and the routines were beautifully matched, and varied enough to keep your interest
The first act showcase thew company’s foundation and vocabulary as a largely classical ballet company.
Performing resident choreographer Robert Garland’s 13-year-old “Return” to the feel-good music of James Brown and Aretha Franklin, though Mr. Garland seamlessly incorporates some heel-grinding steps from Harlem dance halls. In “Return,” Mr. Garland’s contribution to the season’s first program, the mix of classical and vernacular made both sides look frivolous. “Gloria,” however, is serious.
The company’s spirited rendition of the fittingly-titled “Return,” proved that it is possible to be funky, even in a pair of pointe shoes. Da’Von Doane as the soloist in the “Superbad” section was exactly that, his athleticism and classic lines surpassed only by his organic street dance moves.
I can always tell when I enjoyed myself because when I return home, I am dancing and moving as if I have danced for years. I transform into a ballerina(unsuccessfully). Needless to say, I was captivated by the skills and execution of the dancers. A marvelous performance.
The dancers were amazing, especially Michaela. . I would happily pay to see this same performance again. I hope the public will respond to the great dancing and help build a permanent place for the company.