One of the most iconic ballet companies in the United States is about to return to life as auditions are underway for 18 dancers. When DTH closed its doors in 2004, it boasted a company of 44, dancing some of the greatest ballets created by George Balanchine and other renowned neo-classical, classical, and contemporary choreographers. Now the company readies itself for a more modest beginning that befits the time. With contributions amounting to $2.5 million, the company ultimately needs $5K to bring itself up to speed. A touring schedule that begins in October will help bring in these revenues that can embrace a New York season by April 2013.
DTH was founded by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook, two outstanding artists who were determined to create a neo-classical ballet company that embraced a racially diverse group of professional dancers. The success of the company began in 1969, and DTH soon expanded to include a world-class training ground for young dancers in Harlem, a powerful outreach program, and a demanding repertoire that highlighted its powerfully alluring and exceptional dancers.
Arthur Mitchell began his career at the High School of Performing Arts in NYC where he became the first male student to win the Annual Dance Award. From there he won a scholarship to the School of American Ballet. In 1955 he became the first African American male to become a permanent member of a premier ballet company when he entered New York City Ballet to eventually become one of the company’s principal dancers. Mitchell was privileged to have Balanchine choreograph two roles for him: Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the pas de deux from Agon.
Karel Shook started out as a child actor at the Seattle Repertory Theater and went on to became the protégé of Nellie Cornish who encouraged him to study ballet. He became a member of The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, danced in a number of Broadway musicals, and became the director of ballet at the Katherine Dunham School. When the school folded, he created the Studio of Dance Arts where a great many of today’s top African American dancers and choreographers studied. Shook was also on the faculty of the June Taylor School before joining Mitchell in founding DTH. A prolific and gifted teacher, choreographer, and writer, Shook died in 1985.
DTH is now under the artistic direction of founding member and former principal dancer, Virginia Johnson. Laveen Naidu, a former dancer, choreographer, and teacher is the company’s Executive Director. The company will begin by presenting Robert Garland’s Return, Alvin Ailey’s The Lark Ascending, and Balanchine’s Agon or Concerto Barocco as well as new choreography by Garland, Helen Pickett, John Alleyne, and Francesca Harper.
For more information on DTH:
And for a wonderful interview with Arthur Mitchell: