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Arthur Mitchell


Arthur Mitchell and Friends

Monday, 26 October 2015 Barnard Hall-James Room 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Barnard College

Welcome: Linda Bell, Provost and Dean of the Faculty, Barnard College

Lynn Garafola, Professor of Dance and Co-Chair of the Barnard College Department of Dance

Retrospective of an Artist: Arthur Mitchell on Film

A film montage chronicling the life and career of Mr. Mitchell, including his time with the New York City Ballet, on Broadway, and as director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
This film was produced by Gillian Lipton, Project Director, The Arthur Mitchell Project, and Robert Branch, Columbia University Office of Communications video producer.

Introduction of Arthur Mitchell: Marcia Sells, Arthur Mitchell Project Symposium Curator, and former member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem

Arthur Mitchell, dance pioneer and icon, continues to be a pivotal figure in the dance world and a self-described “political activist through dance.” He is internationally known as a critically acclaimed dancer, educator, choreographer, artistic director, and dance visionary. A native of Harlem and a graduate of the prestigious High School of Performing Arts in New York City, he was awarded a scholarship to study ballet the School of American Ballet at the age of eighteen. In 1955, he broke the glass ceiling of classical ballet by becoming the first African American principal dancer of the New York City Ballet under the direction of George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein: he remained in the company for the next fifteen years. He is best known for two roles choreographed especially for him by his mentor George Balanchine, the pas de deux in Agon and the lighthearted Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Inspired by the changes sweeping American during the Civil Rights movement, the message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his own determination to provide young people in the Harlem community the opportunity to positively transform their lives, Mitchell cofounded the Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) with Karel Shook in 1969. The organization that began as a school with thirty students and a company of two professional dancers, grew into the first permanently established African American ballet company in the United States. The company was described in the New York Times as “one of the dance world’s more visionary experiments.” In 1988, DTH was the first ballet company invited by the US/USSR Cultural Exchange Initiative to perform in the then Soviet Union. In addition, DTH and England’s Royal Ballet launched an educational project that trained talented children of all races in the art of ballet in England. At the invitation of President Mandela, the company was the first American performing arts organization to visit South Africa, breaking the country’s thirty-year cultural ban.

To further his belief that dance can be used as a vehicle for social change and to ensure the legacy of his career, Mitchell founded the Arthur Mitchell Project (AMP). With the generous support of the Ford Foundation, AMP’s first initiative brought the Arthur Mitchell archive to the prestigious Rare Books and Manuscript Library at Columbia University and continues to develop companion programming. Additionally, Mitchell serves as advisor to the School of American Ballet on its diversity initiative. Both in the US and abroad, he continues to educate and advise professional dance companies and cultural institutions on the issue of diversity in the classical arts. With a concern for social justice that has spanned more than half a century, he has carved a place for African American dancers in classical ballet and forever changed the face of dance in America and around the world.

In Conversation with Arthur Mitchell

Mr. Mitchell is joined by former New York City Ballet partners and Broadway stage colleagues to discuss their work together and the dance world of the 1950s and 1960s.

Carmen de Lavallade -  Carmen de Lavallade has had an unparalleled career in dance, theater, film, and television beginning in her hometown of Los Angeles performing with the Lester Horton Dance Theater. While in Los Angeles, Lena Horne introduced the then seventeen-year-old de Lavallade to the filmmakers at 20th Century Fox where she appeared in four movies, including Carmen Jones. During the filming, she met Herbert Ross, who asked her and Alvin Ailey to appear as a featured dancer in the Broadway production of House of Flowers – where she first worked with Arthur Mitchell. From Broadway to the Metropolitan Opera, de Lavallade has performed on the world’s greatest stages and with such legendary artists as Josephine Baker, Duke Ellington, and Alvin Epstein. In her eighties and still performing with supreme grace and elegance, she is an icon in the truest sense of the word – inspiring generations of artists and audiences.

Allegra Kent, Adjunct Professor of Dance at Barnard, is a legendary ballerina and muse of George Balanchine--who created "The Unanswered Question" section in Ivesiana on her as well as leads in Bugaku, La Sonnambula, The Seven Deadly Sins, and other masterpieces and cast her in principal parts throughout his repertory – and of Joseph Cornell, who created boxes and collages with her image. She was a member of the original casts in Jerome Robbins's Dances at a Gathering and Dumbarton Oaks and was also cast by Robbins throughout his repertory. A native of California, where she studied with Carmelita Maracci and Bronislava Nijinska, she came to New York at fourteen as a scholarship student at the School of American Ballet. The following year, Balanchine invited her to join his company, where she danced for the next thirty years. During that time, she performed often with Arthur Mitchell. Kent is an author of critically acclaimed books, including her memoir, Once a Dancer. . . and her first book for children, Ballerina Swan. In 2009, she was a recipient of a Dance Magazine Award.

Kay Mazzo was born in Chicago, where she received early training before attending the first of three consecutive summer courses at the School of American Ballet at age twelve. She subsequently enrolled as a full-time student in 1959. Following performances with Jerome Robbins’ Ballets U.S.A., she was invited by George Balanchine in 1961 to join the New York City Ballet. She rose to soloist in 1965 and principal in 1968. Over the course of her nearly twenty-year career, she danced virtually every female role in NYCB’s repertoire and created parts in numerous new works by Balanchine and Robbins. Balanchine appointed her to the School of American Ballet’s faculty in 1982. She was named Coordinator of Curriculum in 1993 and Co-Chairman of Faculty in October 1997. She is a founding member of The George Balalnchine Trust.

Lynn Garafola (moderator) is Professor of Dance and Co-Chair of the Barnard College Department of Dance. A history and critic, she is the author of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and Legacies of Twentieth-Century Dance, editor of José Limón: An Unfinished Memoir and other books, and curator of the New-York Historical Society’s exhibition Dance for a City: Fifty Years of the New York City Ballet, and several shows at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, including New York Story: Jerome Robbins and His World. She is currently working on a book about the choreographer Bronislava Nijinska.

The Arthur Mitchell Project (AMP) is an arts, education, and research program dedicated to collaborations between artists, scholars, and community builders that foster social change. AMP’s recent work at Columbia University has brought the Arthur Mitchell archive to the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library and helped conceive of the Arthur Mitchell Project Symposium at Barnard College and Butler Library. AMP develops programs that build partnerships between Harlem and Columbia University with the goal of promoting diversity in the arts and works closely with the School of American Ballet on their diversity initiative. AMP is dedicated to furthering Mitchell’s legacy, rooted in his unshakable belief that the arts can both enmpower individuals and inspire social change. AMP is grateful for the support of the Ford Foundation.

Gillian Lipton, AMP Project Manager and Archivist, works as a writer, dancer, teacher, and dramaturge of dance. She has taught in the Art and Public Policy Program at New York University and the Drama, Theatre, and Dance department at Queens College. She has collaborated on numerous performance projects and installations for the Museum of Modern Art and other venues internationally, and acted as dramaturge at Dance Theater Workshop (now New York Live Arts). A participant in the Mellon Postdoctoral Program in Dance Studies, she holds a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from NYU.

The Arthur Mitchell Project Symposium is cosponsored by the Barnard College Department of Dance with Columbia University Rare Books & Manuscripts Library, Columbia University School of the Arts, Office of Community Outreach & Education, IRAAS, CSLC, Center for Jazz Studies, Center for Science & Society, Barnard College Department of Africana Studies.


A Salute to Arthur Mitchell

Tuesday, 27 October 2016 Butler Library – Room 203 1:00-5:30 p.m.
Columbia University

Welcome: Sean Quimby, Director, Rare Books & Manuscript Library
Kathleen Hughes, Assistant Commissioner, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs

Introduction of Panels: Marcia Sells, Arthur Mitchell Project Symposium Curator and former Dance Theatre of Harlem dancer

Panel I: 1:30-2:30 p.m.

Mr. Mitchell joining the New York City Ballet had a direct impact on ballet and his development as an artist. His stature provided opportunities for him to create and start dance companies. In founding the Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook, Mr. Mitchell opened avenues to other artists of color to present their talent and skill. These panels bring together composers, choreographers, dancers, and designers in conversation on the Arthur Mitchell legacy.

Karen Brown, former Artistic Director of the Oakland Ballet and former DTH principal dancer Robert Garland, Dance Theatre of Harlem choreographer and former DTH principal dancer

Vernon Ross, wardrobe master, Metropolitan Opera and Radio City Music Hall, and former DTH wardrobe master and designer

Tania León, composer and DTH founding music director

Margo Jefferson (moderator), Professor, School of the Arts, Writing Division, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and author of Negroland: A Memoir

Panel II: 2:25-3:40 p.m.

Sixty years ago, Mr. Mitchell danced into history by becoming the first African American dancer with the New York City Ballet. He blazed a path for many dancers of color including Misty Copeland, the first African American woman named principal dancer of the American Ballet Theatre in 2015. Performers, writers, and scholars discuss Mr. Mitchell’s impact in the dance world.

Anjali Austin, professor of Dance, Florida State University, and former DTH dancer

Lynn Garafola, Professor of Dance and Co-Chair, Department of Dance, Barnard College, Columbia University

Sarah Kaufman, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic, Washington Post

Virginia Johnson, Artistic Director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem and former DTH principal dancer

Brent Edwards (moderator), Professor, Department of English and Comparative Literature, Center for Jazz Studies, Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, Columbia University

Panel III: 3:40-5:15 p.m.

Artists and their creations are often the inspirational conduits of change. Song, dance, and movement spark imagination, recast old social constructs, and prompt us to see infinite possibilities for the future.

Zita Allen, dance critic and historian, retired Communication Director for DC37

Patricia Cruz, Executive Director, Harlem Stage

Farah Jasmine Griffin, William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University

Brenda Dixon Gottschild, Professor Emerita of Dance Studies, Temple University

Kendall Thomas (moderator), Nash Professor of Law and Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Culture

Acknowledgments: We wish to thank all our financial sponsors: Barnard College, Department of Dance; Columbia University, Rare Books and Manuscript Library; Columbia University School of the Arts; Institute for Research in African American Studies; Center for Science and Society, and Columbia University Office of University Life. We appreciate the support of all the departments that helped us develop the plans and ideas for the Arthur Mitchell Symposium. Thanks to Annette Ralph, Christina Rumpf, and Schawannah Wright for their hard work. Special thanks to the Ford Foundation for their development of the African American Cultural Pioneers Program and Gillian Lipton, Project Manager for the Arthur Mitchell Project.

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