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Legendary Dance Theatre of Harlem's 40-Year History Traced in Exhibition at The New York Public Library
NEW YORK, NY.- Through a rich and colorful mix of spectacular costumes, stage props, posters, programs, intimate photographs and video recordings, Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts traces the history of the company, its community outreach, renowned productions and cast of legendary dancers, fans and supporters. The free exhibition is on display in the Vincent Astor Gallery of The New York Public Library. Through a rich and colorful mix of spectacular costumes, stage props, posters, programs, intimate photographs and video recordings, Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts traces the history of the company, its community outreach, renowned productions and cast of legendary dancers, fans and supporters. The free exhibition is on display in the Vincent Astor Gallery of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at 40 Lincoln Center Plaza, February 11 through May 9, 2009. The Library is also presenting related free public programs at the Library for the Performing Arts and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

In a time when black dancers were all but invisible in mainstream ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook, brought ballet to the neighborhood and black dancers to the main stage. Since its inception the company has continued to cross social and geographic barriers by introducing the ballet world to a Creole Giselle, inviting audiences to a Caribbean wedding in Dougla, bringing black dancers to the international stage through programs such as Dancing Through Barriers® and bringing ballet to Harlem with education and community outreach.

Many of the stories behind the achievements of the company were artfully documented in photographs by Martha Swope, Marbeth and others. Those on display include photos of guests such as Hillary Clinton and Congressman Charles Rangel attending the company’s monthly open houses where performers of all arts and from other organizations showcase their talents to captivated audiences seated on folding chairs and sometimes on the floor.

One of the centerpieces of the show is an eight-foot-long three-dimensional puzzle that took artist Frank Bara two years to create. Completed in 1989, it was commissioned by Arthur Mitchell to celebrate the company’s 20th anniversary. Each layer of the puzzle, crafted entirely from wood, depicts a different aspect of the company’s first two decades in intricate detail, from ballet casts and music to floor plans and blueprints.

From the ceiling of the gallery hang original character costumes such as Firebird’s firebird and monster created by Geoffrey Holder and the wedding canopy from Dougla. Also on display are examples of tights and pointe shoes illustrating Mr. Mitchell's ground-breaking insistence that they be dyed to match each dancer's skin tones. Pictures from Footprints in Red document the stunning costumes designed by Salvatore Ferragamo, which needed to be such a specific blue that craftsmen were flown from Italy to Harlem to dye them just the right shade.

There are also many photographs that show rehearsals in churches and other borrowed spaces that were used before Dance Theatre of Harlem had a home of its own. Other pictures document the world-wide appeal of the company’s talent and show its famous fans like Nelson Mandela after a performance in South Africa and Princess Diana back stage in London.

“This exhibition showcases the triumphs of Dance Theatre of Harlem and illustrates how it challenged convention and changed the face of ballet,” said Jacqueline Z. Davis, The New York Public Library Barbara G. and Lawrence A. Fleischman Executive Director for the Performing Arts. “The creation of Dance Theatre of Harlem marked a turning point in the dance world and contributed to broader steps of progress in society at large. We are thrilled that now we can provide a window to show how much has truly been accomplished by the dedicated and inspired dancers, choreographers and others who together built the company and have kept it going for 40 years.”

Dance Theatre of Harlem’s dedication to dance and community has inspired support from a wide range of renowned figures from the world of dance. On view are pictures of candid moments in master classes being taught by such prominent dancers as Rosella Hightower and Carmen de Lavallade; William Dollar, who is coaching young ballerinas for Combat; Alexandra Danilova and Joseph Wyatt who are shown rehearsing Paquita; and Gregory Hines who is pictured tapping with children from the DTH school.

“This exhibition is a highlight of our 40th anniversary celebration. It shows what DTH has done for our community and ballet and we are pleased to share this extraordinary legacy with a broader public and inspire a new generation,” said Laveen Naidu, Dance Theatre of Harlem Executive Director.

Throughout the gallery, cases exhibit show programs and tour materials including the Australian tour scrapbook that contains newspaper clips from the local press punctuated by negative stereotypes less commonly found in press coverage from the United States.

Also on view are a series of film clips including performances of Giselle and Streetcar Named Desire and a compilation of interviews with those close to the Dance Theatre of Harlem and press coverage the company has received over the years.

for the Performing Arts at 40 Lincoln Center Plaza, February 11 through May 9, 2009. The Library is also presenting related free public programs at the Library for the Performing Arts and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

In a time when black dancers were all but invisible in mainstream ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook, brought ballet to the neighborhood and black dancers to the main stage. Since its inception the company has continued to cross social and geographic barriers by introducing the ballet world to a Creole Giselle, inviting audiences to a Caribbean wedding in Dougla, bringing black dancers to the international stage through programs such as Dancing Through Barriers® and bringing ballet to Harlem with education and community outreach.

Many of the stories behind the achievements of the company were artfully documented in photographs by Martha Swope, Marbeth and others. Those on display include photos of guests such as Hillary Clinton and Congressman Charles Rangel attending the company’s monthly open houses where performers of all arts and from other organizations showcase their talents to captivated audiences seated on folding chairs and sometimes on the floor.

One of the centerpieces of the show is an eight-foot-long three-dimensional puzzle that took artist Frank Bara two years to create. Completed in 1989, it was commissioned by Arthur Mitchell to celebrate the company’s 20th anniversary. Each layer of the puzzle, crafted entirely from wood, depicts a different aspect of the company’s first two decades in intricate detail, from ballet casts and music to floor plans and blueprints.

From the ceiling of the gallery hang original character costumes such as Firebird’s firebird and monster created by Geoffrey Holder and the wedding canopy from Dougla. Also on display are examples of tights and pointe shoes illustrating Mr. Mitchell's ground-breaking insistence that they be dyed to match each dancer's skin tones. Pictures from Footprints in Red document the stunning costumes designed by Salvatore Ferragamo, which needed to be such a specific blue that craftsmen were flown from Italy to Harlem to dye them just the right shade.

There are also many photographs that show rehearsals in churches and other borrowed spaces that were used before Dance Theatre of Harlem had a home of its own. Other pictures document the world-wide appeal of the company’s talent and show its famous fans like Nelson Mandela after a performance in South Africa and Princess Diana back stage in London.

“This exhibition showcases the triumphs of Dance Theatre of Harlem and illustrates how it challenged convention and changed the face of ballet,” said Jacqueline Z. Davis, The New York Public Library Barbara G. and Lawrence A. Fleischman Executive Director for the Performing Arts. “The creation of Dance Theatre of Harlem marked a turning point in the dance world and contributed to broader steps of progress in society at large. We are thrilled that now we can provide a window to show how much has truly been accomplished by the dedicated and inspired dancers, choreographers and others who together built the company and have kept it going for 40 years.”

Dance Theatre of Harlem’s dedication to dance and community has inspired support from a wide range of renowned figures from the world of dance. On view are pictures of candid moments in master classes being taught by such prominent dancers as Rosella Hightower and Carmen de Lavallade; William Dollar, who is coaching young ballerinas for Combat; Alexandra Danilova and Joseph Wyatt who are shown rehearsing Paquita; and Gregory Hines who is pictured tapping with children from the DTH school.

“This exhibition is a highlight of our 40th anniversary celebration. It shows what DTH has done for our community and ballet and we are pleased to share this extraordinary legacy with a broader public and inspire a new generation,” said Laveen Naidu, Dance Theatre of Harlem Executive Director.

Throughout the gallery, cases exhibit show programs and tour materials including the Australian tour scrapbook that contains newspaper clips from the local press punctuated by negative stereotypes less commonly found in press coverage from the United States.

Also on view are a series of film clips including performances of Giselle and Streetcar Named Desire and a compilation of interviews with those close to the Dance Theatre of Harlem and press coverage the company has received over the years.




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