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January 13, 2018 to March 11, 2018


The Wallach Art Gallery
615 West 129th St.
New York  New York  10027
United States
Wallach Art Gallery

Arthur Mitchell: Harlem’s Ballet Trailblazer

Image: Arthur Mitchell rehearsing early Dance Theatre of Harlem company dancers as children look on, early 1970s. Unknown photographer. Arthur Mitchell Collection, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University.

The first major exhibition devoted to Arthur Mitchell, this project celebrates the life and accomplishments of the New York City Ballet’s first African American star, and the founder and longtime director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Featuring rarities from Mitchell’s personal archive, which he donated to Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library in 2014, the presentation will include photographs, drawings, posters, memorabilia, and video footage.

Harlem’s Ballet Trailblazer will feature objects from Mitchell’s archive, including the telegram from Lincoln Kirstein to Mitchell inviting him to join the New York City Ballet, an Al Hirschfeld drawing of Suzanne Farrell and Mitchell in Balanchine's Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, Mitchell’s 1952 Four Saints in Three Acts souvenir program and  posters from the 1961 Spoleto Festival, where Mitchell both choreographed and performed. Other highlights are photographs of Mitchell and fellow dancers by Anthony Crickmay, Peter Basch, Martha Swope and Antony Armstrong-Jones (Lord Snowdon), and an eight-foot-long Dance Theatre of Harlem puzzle, created by Frank Bara in 1991, that chronicles the first two decades of the company’s history with illustrative detail of its artists, heroes and friends. Dancer Charmaine Hunter’s costume and headpiece designed by Geoffrey Holder for Firebird (1982), one of Dance Theatre of Harlem’s signature works, will be on view, as well as performance footage from the New York Public Library's Jerome Robbins Dance Division and elsewhere. 

“I am a political activist through dance,” said Mitchell, who received a Doctorate of Humane Letters from Columbia in May of 2016. “I believe that dance, and the arts more broadly, can be used as a catalyst for social change—this is why I started the Dance Theatre of Harlem. With my archive at Columbia, artifacts of American dance history and African American history are accessible to young scholars, academics and the general public. The exhibition at the Wallach Gallery will further this push for change.”

Arthur Mitchell: Harlem's Ballet Trailblazer is presented in collaboration with the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University.