Good news, dance lovers: After an eight-year-plus hiatus, the ballet company Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) is back!
“Believe, Again” shouts the banner ad on DTH’s website. Next to the beaming face of a young dancer named Michaela, a quote reads, “I believe because I am the little girl who dreamed of being a ballerina and who now dances the ‘Black Swan Pas de Deux’ for the Dance Theatre of Harlem.”
Then another starry-eyed young dancer’s face appears with a quote that says, “I believe in the transformative power of dance. That’s what drew me to Dance Theatre of Harlem all the way from Australia.”
Following that, another dancer says, “Arthur Mitchell taught me that if you believe, you can make amazing things happen.” The excitement is palpable.
The ad announces DTH’s inaugural 2013 New York season, April 10-14–the first since it was disbanded over eight years ago due to crushing financial debts. The dream of DTH’s return was kept alive by the school and a small ensemble troupe, but a gaping hole was created by the loss of the brainchild of dancer-choreographer Arthur Mitchell (with noted-teacher Karel Shook). Back in the 1960s, Mitchell broke American ballet’s color barrier when he became the first Black premiere danseur with George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet. Creating DTH following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mitchell was determined that it would be a permanent showcase for classically trained dancers and choreographers of color while also opening doors to a world, then, too often closed to them.
Now, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, DTH soars back with performances at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater. This performance features a program that salutes its glorious past and points the way towards a promising future. It includes “Agon,” the masterpiece Balanchine created on Mitchell that Mitchell, in turn, later mounted on Virginia Johnson, then DTH’s critically acclaimed premier ballerina and now DTH’s artistic director.
Other works include “Far But Close,” a contemporary love story told through spoken word text by Daniel Beaty with choreography by John Alleyne, set to the music of Daniel Bernard Roumain. Cellist Dana Leong will be joining the musical live collaboration. Robert Garland’s “Gloria” will share the program with Alvin Ailey’s hauntingly beautiful “The Lark Ascending” and Donald Byrd’s “Contested Space.”
The repertory is an eclectic mix, but Johnson says, “That’s what DTH has always done. We’ve always been an eclectic company. Our base is classical ballet, but look what you can do with it. That’s the whole principle. Classical ballet is at our base. We need to remind people that it’s a vocabulary, it’s a means of expression that can reflect the past, the present and give us a way to talk about our future. It’s very exciting to use this very important technique in different ways.”
A recent visit to DTH’s 152nd Street headquarters to watch a rehearsal for the upcoming season offered a glimpse of what lies in store for audiences of this brief but important season. In the spacious studio, rehearsing under the watchful eye of Johnson, the dancers were awe-inspiring as they leapt, jeted and pirouetted through space with unabashed passion, impressive technique and clear-eyed commitment. If that was any indication of what lies in store for audiences during this upcoming season, well, fasten your seat belts and be prepared to be wowed!