Dance Theatre of Harlem

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Dance Theatre of Harlem
The Dance Theatre of Harlem perform Dialogues in 2006.

Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) is an American professional ballet company and school based in Harlem, New York City. It was founded in 1969 under the co-directorship of Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook, who had been the first teacher and ballet master of the Dutch National Ballet. Milton Rosenstock served as the company's music director from 1981 to 1992. The DTH is renowned both as "the first black classical ballet company",[1] and "the first major ballet company to prioritize black dancers".


Arthur Mitchell, the first African-American male dancer in a major ballet company (New York City Ballet), was on his way to Brazil when he heard the news of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. After hearing the news of Dr. King's death Mitchell decided to start a dance company in Harlem to give back to the community in which he grew up. Following in George Balanchine's footsteps, Mitchell first started a school to train young dancers in the classical technique. Using space at Church of the Master to hold classes, he soon converted a garage into the building that still houses the Dance Theatre of Harlem today.

Founded in 1969, the Dance Theatre of Harlem made its official debut with a public performance on January 8, 1971, at the New York Guggenheim Museum, with three chamber ballets by Mitchell. Balanchine gave Mitchell access to all of his ballets in order to start his company in Harlem, and during the same season the company's repertory was supplemented with several ballets by Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. The company produced its first full season in 1974. Its European debut was at the Spoleto Festival. In 1981 the Dance Theatre of Harlem became the first black company to appear at Covent Garden. In 1984, Dance Theatre of Harlem premiered its most famous work, Creole Giselle (restaged by Frederic Franklin), which was set in the 1840s Louisiana Bayou. In 1992, the company toured to South Africa[2] in the "Dancing Through Barriers" tour that gave birth to the outreach program of the same name that still continues to operate. South African Suite, a collaboration with the Soweto String Quartet, was created after the company's visit to South Africa and became a staple in the repertoire of the company for years to come.

In 1997 the company's dancers went on strike to demand better wages and performing conditions. After much deliberation, the company unionized and joined the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA).

In 1999, the year of the company's 30th anniversary, Dance Theatre of Harlem and Mitchell were inducted into the National Museum of Dance and the Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York.[3]

In 2000 The Dance Theater of Harlem participated in the in Symphony's Symphony Space's "Wall to Wall Balanchine" in conjunction with City Ballet's Balanchine centennial. In mid-2004 the Dance Theatre of Harlem Company was put on hiatus due to severe financial constraints within the organization.

In 2006 President George W. Bush honored Dance Theatre of Harlem at the White House for an evening of performances by the DTH Ensemble as well as former company members, Audra McDonald, Al Green, and LeAnn Rimes. From 2009 to 2012, The Dance Theatre of Harlem Ensemble, a second company that developed from the professional training program of the DTH school, toured nationally and internationally, in the Dance For America tour.

In February 2009 Dance Theatre of Harlem celebrated its 40th anniversary. In 2011, Virginia Johnson, a founding dancer of the company, was named Artistic Director, with Arthur Mitchell becoming Artistic Director Emeritus. In 2012 Johnson brought the Dance Theatre of Harlem Company back after an eight-year hiatus.

Since the return of the DTH company in 2012, Artistic Director Virginia Johnson has commissioned world premier works from Helen Pickett, John Alleyne, Tanya Wideman-Davis and Thaddeus Davis Darrell Grand Moultrie, and Robert Garland. The new Dance Theatre of Harlem company has also presented ballets by George Balanchine, Nacho Duato, Donald Byrd, Ulysses Dove, Christopher Huggins and Alvin Ailey, among others.

Young dancers from the Dance Theatre of Harlem perform during a dinner held at the White House on February 6, 2006. President George W. Bush and Laura Bush are in attendance.

The Dance Theatre of Harlem archives, created and processed with assistance from the Dance Heritage Coalition[4] hold many important documents from the company's history. These include photographs of the visit of Nelson Mandela to the DTH, a handwritten score by Karel Shook, and designs by Salvatore Ferragamo.[5] In 2013, the DTH archives received a Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support the improvement of sustainable preservation measures for the DTH archival collection.[6]

Former principal and notable dancers[edit]

Among the theatre's dancers are or were:

Current dancers[edit]

  • Lindsey Croop[9]
  • Da'von Doane[9]
  • Chyrstyn Fentroy[9]
  • Nayara Lopes[9]
  • Dylan Santos[9]
  • Anthony Javier Savoy[9]
  • Ingrid Silva[9]
  • Alison Stroming[9]
  • Jorge Andrés Villarini[9]
  • Stephanie Rae Williams[9]

Outreach work[edit]

The Dance Theatre of Harlem School offers training to more than 1,000 young people annually with its community program called Dancing Through Barriers, open to any child who wants to study dance. The company's Dancing Through Barriers Ensemble does outreach throughout the US.[10] It accepts pre-school children up to senior citizens. The school offers specializations in children's movement, European ballet, choreography, and musicology.

The Dance Theatre of Harlem now has a Pre-Professional Residecy program at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., for dancers aged from eight to 18. If accepted, the students meet every Saturday, October through April, and work with DTH resident choreographer Robert Garland. The program includes four levels from beginner to advanced for both ladies and gentlemen of the DC metro area. In April, the program culminates with a performance on the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall stage as a part of the Millenum Stage series.

The company ceased performing in 2004 due to budgetary constraints.[11] During the hiatus, the Dancing Though Barriers Ensemble continued community outreach as the only performing entity of the organization. Dance Theatre of Harlem resumed performances in the 2012–13 season.[12] As of December 2013 the company had 18 dancers and was under the leadership of Virginia Johnson.[13]

Today, still under the direction of Virginia Johnson, the company has 14 dancers that tour nationally as well as internationally.


  1. ^ Encyclopedia Columbia Encyclopedia.
  2. ^ Oxford Dictionary of Dance.
  3. ^ Dance Theater of Harlem, Legacy.
  4. ^ Bell, Kat (July 22, 2011). "Things Have Been Busy". Preserving the Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives (blog). Retrieved July 21, 2014. 
  5. ^ Smith, Imogen; Tyrus, Judy; Bell, Kat (September 23, 2013). "Adapting Traditional Processes to Nontraditional Collections: Putting the Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives Back Together". Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives. Retrieved July 21, 2014. 
  6. ^ "Dance Theatre of Harlem Planning Grant for DTH Archival Preservation Plan". National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved July 21, 2014. 
  7. ^ Barbara Rowes, "It's No Stretch to Call Lydia Abarca One of Ballet's Most Under-Recognized Stars", People, Vol. 12, No. 15, October 8, 1979.
  8. ^ Jennifer Dunning, "DANCE: Lydia Abarca is baxk", The New York Times, March 1, 1983.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "The DTH Company", Dance Theatre of Harlem.
  10. ^ Where Are All the Black Swans?, New York Times, May 6, 2007 (accessed May 6, 2007).
  11. ^ Deficit Threatens Dance Troupe In Harlem (accessed May 13, 2012).
  12. ^ Dance Theatre of Harlem Company (accessed May 13, 2012)
  13. ^ Kourlas, Gia. "A Phoenix Is Rising on Point". The New York Times. Retrieved December 27, 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Koegler, Horst, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Ballet, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1982, 0-19-311325-2

External links[edit]