the fabulous arthur mitchell and dance theater of harlem
photo copyright: Dance Theater of Harlem. photographer not listed.
copy courtesy of The Victoria and Albert Museum, London
In the 1950s and 60s Arthur Mitchell challenged the myth that black dancers were unsuited to ballet. He grew up in the Harlem district of New York and when he was 18 won a scholarship to the School of American Ballet. On graduation in 1956, he joined New York City Ballet and danced with them for 15 years. George Balanchine, the choreographer and founder of the company, created many roles for him, including the ballets Agon and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Mitchell had a great belief in the power of education to help children develop their potential. He wanted children within the black community to have more opportunities. In 1968, shortly after Martin Luther King’s assassination, Mitchell founded a school called the Dance Theatre of Harlem. The school was a huge success and in 1971 the company, also known as Dance Theatre of Harlem, gave its first performances. It has since performed to great acclaim all over the world. The repertory includes works by major 20th-century choreographers, including Fokine, Nijinska, Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. Mitchell also commissioned works, some of which explored the origins of black dance.