Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts


Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts


April 18 – August 30, 2015

This majestic exhibition of dazzling costumes, set pieces, and video excerpts celebrates an iconic company and its corps who defied prejudice, and gravity itself, in pursuit of their talent. In the process, the company made history and shattered barriers for future generations of aspiring performers. Dance Theatre of Harlem is a celebration of courage, and of the magic and uplifting power of the performing arts.

An Astonishing Talent

Central to the themes of the exhibition is the story of founder Arthur Mitchell himself. Mitchell, with his astonishing talent, was selected by George Balanchine to join the New York City Ballet. To be the only African American dancer of a major ballet company was a historic achievement in pre-Civil Rights America. He rose to become a principal dancer within the company, then founded Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1969 in a church basement in the aftermath of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. It was the artist’s way of giving back to his community in the credo of the civil rights leader. Dance Theatre rose to become one of the most sought-after companies by the leading impresarios, opera houses, and performance venues around the world.

In addition to the costumes and staged ballets, the exhibition includes historical photographs, original tour programs, letters from choreographers and dignitaries, magazine articles, and design bibles. The exhibition honors the art of dance, and a man who dared to define a vision, rather than having it defined for him.

Special thanks to

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The exhibition is organized by Dance Theatre of Harlem, California African American Museum, and The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington D.C.

Saturday, April 18 to Sunday, August 30