The Dance Theatre of Harlem was founded in 1969, to provide new opportunities in the largely black and Hispanic New York City community, following the assassination of civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The effort that began in Harlem, grew to be a world-renowned multicultural endeavor, with an eclectic take on classical dance.
Dance Theatre of Harlem, fondly called DTH by staff and enthusiasts alike, is a widely acclaimed, predominantly-black ballet troupe co-founded by former New York City Ballet star Arthur Mitchell. Even though the company calls Harlem home, DTH is no stranger to the world.
The company has performed in many countries, including Argentina, Denmark, Egypt, Israel, Jamaica, Russia, South Africa, and Turkey. Director Arthur Mitchell says DTH strives to communicate directly with the people of the nations the company visits and here at home, DTH is also comfortable with the wide diversity of ethnic communities. "That is one of the exciting things about Dance Theatre. We can do our educational community outreach program in English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Japanese, and Mandarin Chinese," says Mr. Mitchell. "We can go into any community and speak that language."
Dance instructor Robert Garland has been with DTH for 18 years. He says he teaches a little bit of everything because that is what young people need these days. The group's multicultural approach is apparent in all its programs, from its neighborhood school of dance to its national and international arts education program to its company of dancers. Mr. Garland stresses that while Dance Theatre of Harlem does specialize in a European art form, in a New York City community, its members and its work are richly diverse. "You have a place that reflects the world," he says. "You could, in the first ballet of the evening, be doing something really classical and then you are doing something like "Dougla" which utilizes West African technique - a very African-based aesthetic and Caribbean aesthetic. And then move on to South African suite, which is played by the Soweto String Quartet - South African sounding music but structured and played on string instruments."
Robert Garland's colleague, Education Coordinator Marcia Sells, agrees the company is an eclectic mix. "Let's say you are going into a community that is predominantly Haitian. You have two dancers who, you know, one dancer who is from Haiti and you have a dancer who is from France. Why not take advantage that you can fully relate to the audience that is there and really let them say, "You are represented up here on this stage."
Mr. Garland adds the multicultural mix makes for wonderful times offstage. "It is a great thing to go to Brazil, and we have four Brazilian dancers and they will show you around, then go to Lyons, France and have a dancer show you around, meet her mother, go to her house."
Wherever they travel, the dancers say they always come back to Harlem enriched and culturally energized. But then it is back to the routine that has won them their international acclaim -- practice, practice, practice.