By Walter Rutledge
Arthur Mitchell: Harlem’s Ballet Trailblazer will open at Columbia’s Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, 615 W 129th St, on Saturday January 13, 2018. The exhibit is presented in collaboration with Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library, where Mitchell donated his archive in 2015. This is the first major exhibition devoted to celebrating the life and accomplishments of New York City Ballet’s first African American principal dancer and the co-founder and longtime director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Curated by Lynn Garafola, Professor Emerita of Dance, Barnard College the collection will be on view through March 11, 2018
“This exhibition pays homage both to Mitchell’s creative magic and to his visionary achievements, revealing to those who never saw him dance his charismatic stage presence and the full scope of his career as an artist,” said Garafola. “At the same time, it places the Dance Theatre of Harlem, which he co-founded and directed for more than 40 years, at the crossroads of political, artistic and racial change in the United States and beyond.”
Arthur Mitchell: Harlem’s Ballet Trailblazer will feature objects from Mitchell’s archive, including the telegram from Lincoln Kirstein to Mitchell inviting him to join the New York City Ballet, an Al Hirschfeld drawing of Suzanne Farrell and Mitchell in Balanchine’s Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, Mitchell’s 1952 Four Saints in Three Acts souvenir program and posters from the 1961 Spoleto Festival, where Mitchell both choreographed and performed.
Other highlights are photographs of Mitchell and fellow dancers by Anthony Crickmay, Peter Basch, Martha Swope and Antony Armstrong-Jones (Lord Snowdon), and an eight-foot-long Dance Theatre of Harlem puzzle, created by Frank Bara in 1991, that chronicles the first two decades of the company’s history with illustrative detail of its artists, heroes and friends. Dancer Charmaine Hunter’s costume and headpiece designed by Geoffrey Holder for Firebird (1982), one of Dance Theatre of Harlem’s signature works, will be on view, as well as performance footage from a number of sources including the New York Public Library’s Jerome Robbins Dance Division.
Dance Pioneer Arthur Mitchell
“I am a political activist through dance,” said Mitchell, who received a Doctorate of Humane Letters from Columbia in May of 2016. “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. With my archive at Columbia, artifacts of American dance history and African American history are accessible to young scholars, academics and the general public. The exhibition at the Wallach Gallery will further this push for change.”
The Wallach Art Gallery advances Columbia’s historical, critical and creative engagement with the visual arts. Serving as both a laboratory and a forum, the Wallach offers opportunities for curatorial practice and discourse, while bridging the diverse approaches to the arts at the University with a welcome broader public. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Friday, noon until 8pm and Saturday and Sunday, noon until 6 pm. The Wallach Art Gallery is free and open to the public.
“Our grand re-opening year at the Lenfest Center for the Arts is the perfect opportunity to celebrate Mitchell’s artistic genius, through the holdings of Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The Wallach is proud to collaborate on this presentation, offering a glimpse of these treasures to the public, while also appealing to those interested in the history of ballet, the history of Harlem and, more broadly, modern American race relations,” said Deborah Cullen, Director and Chief Curator of the Wallach Art Gallery.
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.
To watch the complete Agon featuring the original cast click below