By Walter Rutledge
The Dance Theatre of Harlem literally danced onto the arts scene in 1969. With just thirty students and one teacher, co-founder Karel Shock; Arthur Mitchell began what was to become his life’s mission. A Harlem native Mitchell recruited directly from his community and within two months the number of students had grown to over four hundred.
As a former principal dancer with New York City Ballet Mitchell knew first hand the restrictive mentality towards blacks in ballet. In 1971 he premiered his fledging company, the Dance Theatre of Harlem at the Guggenheim Museum. The company forever debunked the misconception that people of African decent were physically and esthetically ill equipped to perform ballet.
Diligence, dedication and hard work were the company cornerstone; the result was international acclaim for Dance Theatre of Harlem. The roster of choreographers including George Balanchine, Louis Johnson, Geoffrey Holder, Ruth Page, Jerome Robbins and Arthur Mitchell reinforced the company’s versatility. Ballet stalwarts Swan Lake and Giselle (the production value of the Creole based Giselle is second to none) brought full circle the vision of a world-class ballet company.
In 2004, due to financial restraints the Dance Theatre of Harlem was forced to suspend operations. Over the last six years the absence of the company has created an artistic void, strongly felt in the Harlem community. On October 14 a reawaking began, in the form of a new dance initiative called Dance Works 2.0.
Dance 2.0 is a studio showing of new works (duets), presented to the public during the gestation phase. The presentations are followed by a panel discussion and an opportunity for the audience to talk directly with the choreographer and dancers. The evening proved to be exciting and cerebral; as we the public gained insight into the artist’s choreographic vision and observed the dancer’s physical translation.
Dance 2.0 is free to the public, and is being offered on four consecutive Thursdays; October 14, 21, 28 and November 4. During the first three weeks a different choreographer will present a work in progress. On November 4 all three choreographers will show their completed ballets.
Artistic Director Virginia Johnson stated in a brief introduction that this was the first step in beginning back the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Ms Johnson also acknowledged that the process of creating a strong repertoire demands time for artists to develop works of merit. Social networking was encouraged, we were allowed to text, tweet, photograph, film, and post the event. This was a brilliant and unprecedented move; it also instantly made the audience passive participants.
Choreographer Helen Pickett presented an excerpt of her work set to the music Einstein On The Beach by Phillip Glass. Andrea Spiridonakos, and former Dance Theatre of Harlem company member Ramon Thielen performed the duet. The work utilized the ballet technique as the foundation of the movement, without relying on classical shapes.
Gesture has played a significant role in the work so far. It was a cohesive element bridging the abstract with the humanistic. The use of the back and appendages as connected entities allowed for a fluid quality in the movement.
The series continues this week on Thursday October 21 with choreographer Robert Garland. To attend Dance 2.0 please submit your request for tickets to email@example.com. The seating is general admission and limited.
In Photos 1) Arthur Mitchell, Ronald Perry, Lydia Abarca 2) Andrea Spiridonakos, Ramon Thielen 3) Virginia Johnson
Photos 2& 3 and Video by Jamar Carr