1/26/18 O&A NYC SHALL WE DANCE FRIDAY: An Afternoon With Arthur Mitchell

By Walter Rutledge


I believe that children are our future;
Teach them well and let them lead the way.
Show them all the beauty they possess inside.
Give them a sense of pride,
To make it easier;
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be. George Benson- The Greatest  
                                                                                                                                    

This is the opening stanza for George Benson’s The Greatest written for the 1977 biopic of the same title about Muhammad Ali. It is also the music and title of a duet choreographed by Arthur Mitchell for Dance Theatre Of Harlem, and in many ways it remains Mitchell’s credo. An Afternoon with Arthur Mitchell presented at the Lenfest Center for the Arts, Columbia University on Saturday, January 20, 2018 was an opportunity to see a master teacher, director, educator and showman in action.

 After a short introduction Mitchell and percussionist Baba Don Eaton Lenfest Center for the Arts, Columbia University proceeded to teach the audience a series of polyrhythmic music passages. The highlight was a rare screening of the dance documentary (1973), featuring Mitchell’s ballet Rhythmetron, and a fledgling Dance Theatre of Harlem. Most of the film took place in the basement of the Church of the Master, the home of his first school at 81 Morningside Avenue.

Throughout the film Mitchell shares his gift of dance with the charm, confidence and authority that has become his trademark. He masterfully used popular social dances as a bridge to ballet. Mitchell made classic ballet less foreign and more accessible to the young audience from the Harlem community. It was wonderful seeing a performance by the original cast of Rhythmetron; which featured Lydia Abarca, Yvonne Hall, Virginia Johnson, Ronald Perry and Walter Raines.

Following the film Mitchell took questions from the audience, which included balletomanes, dance history enthusiasts and young dancers from Harlem School Of The Arts and Dance Theatre Of Harlem. At 83 years old Mitchell displayed the same vigor, charisma and irrepressible wit we had seen earlier in the film. Always “Mr. Mitchell”, he shared anecdotes, offered advice, and even corrected deportment with an uncompromising paternal demeanor.

An Afternoon With Arthur Mitchell

In her book Page by Page author Ruth Page has a chapter entitled Father Mitchell 1972. Page writes: “Arthur Mitchell is a person with no vices. He doesn’t smoke or drink, and eats a lot of ice cream. He works very hard and is truly a splendid example for young dancers. He is really a sort of Sir Galahad.”

For more information about the Wallach Art Gallery and the Arthur Mitchell: Harlem’s Ballet Trailblazer exhibition and related events visit wallach.columbia.edu. 

Upcoming events include:

Wallach Gallery Talks
Saturday January 27, 2018 1:00 – 1:30PM
Learn more about key works in the Arthur Mitchell archive from different perspectives. All talks begin at 1 pm and meet in the Wallach Art Gallery lobby on the 6th floor. Lynn Garafola, exhibition curator and Professor Emerita of Dance, Barnard College, Columbia University.

Wallach Family Afternoon
Saturday February 10, 2018 1:00 – 3:00PM
An afternoon of storytelling, art-making and movement for families to enjoy together.

Discussion with former dancers from the Dance Theatre of Harlem
Saturday  February 24, 2018, 1pm

For more information about the Wallach Art Gallery and the Arthur Mitchell: Harlem’s Ballet Trailblazer exhibition and related events visit wallach.columbia.edu. 

 

 

 

 

 

1/15/18 O&A NYC DANCE: Opening Reception for Arthur Mitchell: Harlem’s Ballet Trailblazer

Opening Reception for Arthur Mitchell: Harlem’s Ballet Trailblazer took place on the 8th floor of  Columbia University’s Manhattanville Campus Lenfest Center for the Arts. The gathering celebrated the first major exhibition devoted to the life and accomplishments of Arthur Mitchell, New York City Ballet’s first African- American principal dancer, and founder/artistic director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem. The evening brought together former and present Dance Theatre of Harlem company members and staff, colleagues, old friends, balletomanes; and dance and cultural historians. In an unexpected highlight Mitchell partnered former DTH dancer Paunika Jones reinforcing that this octogenarian teacher, choreographer, dance and social icon still leads by example.

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Mitchell donated his personal archive to Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library in 2014. The Arthur Mitchell Collection on display in the 6th floor Wallach Art Gallery was curated by Lynn Garafola, Professor Emerita of Dance, Barnard College, and includes photographs, drawings, posters, memorabilia, and rare video footage. The collection not only provides an important insight into the groundbreaking career of Mitchell, but also illustrates how the arts can create social change. “I believe that dance, and the arts more broadly, can be used as a catalyst for social change—this is why I started the Dance Theatre of Harlem”, states Mitchell.

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Arthur Mitchell: Harlem’s Ballet Trailblazer runs from January 13 through March 11, 2018. In addition to the exhibition special events have been planned including:

An Afternoon with Arthur Mitchell
Saturday, January 20, 2018 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM
This special afternoon includes a rare screening of the dance documentary, Rhythmetron with a live appearance by Arthur Mitchell.

Wallach Gallery Talks
Saturday January 27, 2018 1:00 – 1:30PM
Learn more about key works in the Arthur Mitchell archive from different perspectives. All talks begin at 1 pm and meet in the Wallach Art Gallery lobby on the 6th floor. Lynn Garafola, exhibition curator and Professor Emerita of Dance, Barnard College, Columbia University.

Wallach Family Afternoon
Saturday February 10, 2018 1:00 – 3:00PM
An afternoon of storytelling, art-making and movement for families to enjoy together.

For more information about the Wallach Art Gallery and the Arthur Mitchell: Harlem’s Ballet Trailblazer exhibition and related events including: An Afternoon with Arthur Mitchell (January 20, 2018, 1pm) and Panel Discussion with former dancers from the Dance Theatre of Harlem (February 24, 2018, 1pm) visit wallach.columbia.edu. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 13– March 11, 2018

 

 

 

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University.

 

 

 

 

The collection provides insight into the career and life mission of Mitchell, as a dancer, teacher, choreographer and social activist.

 

The first major exhibition devoted to Arthur Mitchell, this project celebrates the life and accomplishments of the New York City Ballet’s first African American star, and the founder and longtime director of the Dance Theater of Harlem. This event will take place on Friday, January 12, from 6-8 pm in the spacious new Wallach Art Gallery at the Lenfest Center for the Arts.

 

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