By Bernie Petit
The face of the ballet dancer is evolving because of Dance Theatre of Harlem.
And, through a cultural collaboration between Blumenthal Performing Arts and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, there are two ways to experience the groundbreaking dance troupe at Levine Center for the Arts in January.
The renowned performing ensemble will perform in Charlotte for the first time ever Jan. 22-24 at Knight Theater. That same weekend, the Gantt Center will open the exhibit “Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts” on the cultural campus. The exhibit will run through June 26.
Founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook, Dance Theatre of Harlem was considered “one of ballet’s most exciting undertakings” (The New York Times, 1971). Shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mitchell was inspired to start a school that would offer children — especially those in Harlem, the community in which he was born — the opportunity to learn about dance and the allied arts. Now in its fourth decade, the first African-American classical ballet company has grown into a multi-cultural dance institution with an extraordinary legacy of providing opportunities for creative expression and artistic excellence that continues to set standards in the performing arts.
Coincidentally, the dance theatre – known for performances that challenge preconceived notions – will perform in Charlotte the week of Martin Luther King Day. The ballet company consists of 14 racially diverse dance artists who perform an eclectic, demanding repertoire, from treasured classics and neo-classical works by George Balanchine and resident choreographer Robert Garland to cutting edge contemporary works and works that use the language of ballet to celebrate African-American culture.
“Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts,” celebrates the iconic company and its corps. It features a collection of costumes, set pieces and video excerpts from the company’s history. In addition to the costumes and staged ballets, the exhibition includes historical photographs, original tour programs, tour posters, letters from choreographers and dignitaries, and design bibles.
The collaboration between Blumenthal and the Gantt Center demonstrates how local cultural groups are focused on building community, providing relevant and innovative programming and making cultural experiences central to education – all pillars of the community’s Cultural Vision Plan.
In December, Dance Theatre of Harlem dancer Chyrstyn Fentroy visited Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte to conduct a master class with dance students. It was one of the community outreach initiatives planned around the dance theatre’s visit to Charlotte.
“If we bring this great dance company here, and only those who can afford a relatively high ticket price can come, we have failed,” Blumenthal president and CEO Tom Gabbard told The Charlotte Observer. “This can be an aspirational moment. When you see a dancer of color onstage, someone who looks like you, the impact that makes can be a lifelong thing.”
See The Performance, See the Exhibit
Dance Theatre of Harlem performs Jan. 22-24 at Knight Theater at Levine Center for the Arts, 430 S. Tryon St., Charlotte. Tickets are $21.50-$76.50. For tickets or for more information, click here.
“Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts” runs Jan. 22-June 26 at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture at Levine Center for the Arts, 551 S. Tryon St., Charlotte. Museum admission is $9 adults, $7 children ages 6-17 and college students/educators/military members/seniors, and free for children ages 5 and younger and museum members. Group discounts available. For more information, click here.