2/8/19 O&A NYC SHALL WE DANCE FRIDAY: Arthur Mitchell’s Barrier Breaking Creole Giselle

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Arthur Mitchell’s Creole Giselle performed by the Dance Theatre Of Harlem (DTH), and set the traditional story of Giselle in 1841 Louisiana broke barriers with this all African American adaptation.  Continue reading

4/2/18 O&A NYC DANCE: Ingrid Silva- Brown Ballerina

By Walter Rutledge

Ingrid Silva was like every little girl who studied ballet; she dreamed of being a ballerina. As Silva’s potential became evident she realized that there was little opportunity for a dark-skinned classical dancer in Brazil. In 2008, at age 18, she left home and moved to New York City to study at the Dance Theatre of Harlem.    Continue reading

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

4/14/16 O&A NYC DANCE: The Martha Graham Dance Company Begins 90th Anniversary Season Today

By Walter Rutledge

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The Martha Graham Dance Company begins their 90th anniversary season today at New York City Center (131 West 55th Street). The company will present four extraordinary programs on Thursday April 14, Friday April 15, Saturday April 16 and Monday April 18, featuring four of Graham’s most acclaimed masterworks Chronicle (1933), Appalachian Spring (1944) Cave Of The Heart (1946), and Night Journey (1947). In addition to the Graham works company will present premieres by internationally acclaimed choreographers Marie Chouinard, Mats Ek, and Pontus Lidberg, and recent works by Nacho Duato and Andonis Foniadakis. Continue reading

4/8/16 O&A NYC SHALL WE DANCE FRIDAY: Arthur Mitchell’s Barrier Breaking Creole Giselle

Shall We Dance
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Arthur Mitchell’s Creole Giselle performed by the Dance Theatre Of Harlem (DTH), and set the traditional story of Giselle in 1841 Louisiana broke barriers with this all African American adaptation.  Continue reading

4/5/16 O&A NYC DANCE: Harlem Arts Alliance Honors Women In Dance

By Walter Rutledge

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The Harlem Arts Alliance presented a special monthly meeting celebrating the Harlem community’s contribution to dance. The forum, which took place on Monday April 4, acknowledged the contributions of women of color to the advancement of the art form. The evening began with an informal meet and greet in the lobby of Aaron Davis Hall, City College. Continue reading

4/15/15 O&A REVIEW: Dance Theatre Of Harlem

By Walter Rutledge

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The Dance Theatre Of Harlem presented their New York City season April 8 through 11 at New York City Center. This is the third season since the much heralded return of the company in 2012, and for the 2015 season Artistic Director Virginia Johnson curated two programs, a total of seven works, presented over four performances. Aside from the two neoclassical Balanchine works the repertoire reflected a new direction for the company.

Many have anticipated the return of the barrier breaking dance institution that literally evolved, under the direction of founder Arthur Mitchell, from Afros to ballet buns. The 2015 New York City season introduced a svelte company of eighteen young dancers that has evolved into a formidable contemporary ballet company. Johnson tapped an eclectic array of choreographers to challenge the dancers showcasing the strengths of each young artist.

The three highlights of the season were Nacho Duato’s Coming Together, Ulysses Dove’s On The Front Porch Of Heaven and The Mirror In Her Mind by Christopher Huggins. These works provided the dancers the opportunity to transcend the physical limitation of the stage. The dancers reached beyond the footlights to touch the audience.

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Nacho Duato’s Coming Together kept us on a suspense filled movement roller coaster from beginning to end. This master craftsman skillfully heightened the work’s intensity through strong choreographic structure. His reliance on design produced a kinesthetically stimulating ensemble dance.

Virtuoso dancing performed at a breakneck pace enhanced the choreographic design and brought the company’s technical prowess to the forefront. Here the company was at its best! They performed with verve, vigor, and a strong assured attack- “balls forward”. They were not just dancing; instead the company was in the moment- living through the movement.

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Da’Von Doane’s solo courageously “throw caution to the wind”. His risk taking paid off, at one point creating a catalyst effect that seemed to draw the dancers back to the stage. Dylan Santos also distinguished himself with clean execution; his firecracker attack revealed an exciting inner fire.

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Christopher Huggins’ The Mirror In Her Mind was a visually satisfying quartet also danced with great aplomb by Ashley Murphy, Da’Von Doane, Anthony Savoy and Samuel Wilson. The dance was filled with sumptuous partnering executed with daring and precision. Leaping, turning and yearning with great abandon, Murphy’s male trio moved her effortlessly around the stage. Her compelling interpretation combined the right amount of strength and vulnerability.

If Huggins had designed a pure movement/abstract work the quartet would have been truly dazzling. As a narrative it lacked the needed character development to create a complete scenario. This dance felt like an excerpt, possibly the middle section from a larger work.

We never knew who the three men really were and what led Murphy on her path. To equate it in more visceral terms it was like sex without foreplay or afterglow- definitely satisfying just not totally fulfilling. A work with this much potential deserves a beginning section to establish the relationships and an ending section for a real resolution.

Heaven

Ulysses Dove’s haunting allergy Dancing On The Front Porch Of Heaven made its Dance Theatre of Harlem premiered in 2014. The acquisition of this work helped set the tone for the company’s present and welcomed aestheticism. The work set to Arvo Part (Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten) featured dancers in white unitards designed by Jorge Gallardo.

DANCESTL, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Anthony Savoy and Fredrick Davis, Photo by Sharen Bradford

The centerpiece of the work is a male duet performed by Anthony Savoy and Frederick Davis. The ethereal nature of the duet created a noble sojourn. Davis’ stoicism balanced Savoy’s brave journey into the unknown. The ensuing performance became a profound conversation between brethren. The final upstage ascent into the darkness was not an ending, but a peaceful walk into “the next”.

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Throughout the season there were additional performers and performances that should be mentioned. In the opening section of Robert Garland’s Return, and the pas de quartre in Duato’s Coming Together Jenelle Figgins danced with the appropriate command and temperament. Chryrstyn Fentroy was a beacon of hope in Agon. Her performance in the second pas de trios section displayed technical proficiency, and a sense of confidence and élan. And Keenan English’s clean line and inmate style allowed him to standout in the corps. English has that God-given quality that makes you want to look at him.

As Dance Theatre of Harlem moves forward they will have to decide whether to recreate the Company of old or to move into a new future. Presently it seems they are trying to do both with a modicum of success. It would be a brave and bold move to honor the Company’s 45 year legacy by pursuing a direction more in tune with the present.

This new company could have a bright future if it redefines as oppose to confine itself to a past image and standards. The great response from the large and enthusiastic audience at New York City Center shows the public supports the new direction and has embraced this Dance Theatre Of Harlem. Hopefully they will get the proverbial “800 pound Neo-classic Gorilla” out of the room.

2/28/15 O&A Dance Theatre of Harlem Honors Jessye Norman (repost)

By Walter Rutledge

Jessye Norman and DTH Students Photo Joseph Rodman

The Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) held their 4th annual Vision Gala on Tuesday, February 24 at Cipriani, 110 East 42nd Street. The fundraiser honored opera diva Jessye Norman with the Arthur Mitchell Vision Award. Theodore Bartwink was honored posthumously with the Carl & Lily Pforzheimer Family Foundation Medal. For over three decades Bartwink was the Director of the Harness Center for Dance. The Virtuoso Award Honorees were Mario Baeza and Under Armour, Inc. Continue reading

10/18/14 O&A Its Saturday: The Bessies Dance Into the Apollo on Monday

By Walter Rutledge

It is Saturday

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The Bessies- the New York Dance and Performance Award is the Oscars for dance. Named in honor of pioneer dance educator and choreographic mentor Bessie Schonberg, the Bessies has become one of the most prestigious awards one can receive in the world of dance. On Monday October 20, 7:30pm the Bessies will be held at the Apollo Theater, 325 West 125th Street. Continue reading

A Conversation with Dance Theatre of Harlem Artistic Director Virginia Johnson (originally posted 2/1/2012)

By Walter Rutledge

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Dance Theatre of Harlem will present their second New York season April 23 through April 27 at the Rose Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center. The company can best be described as a “Phoenix Rising”. Continue reading