The Company

THE FIRST TEN YEARS

By Dance Theatre of Harlem

Sheila Rohan, Yvonne Hall, Melva Murray-White and Gayle McKinney in Walter Raines’ "Haiku" (1973) by MarbethDance Theatre of Harlem

Sheila Rohan, Yvonne Hall, Melva Murray-White and Gayle McKinney in Walter Raines’ “Haiku.”

Walter Raines, Dance Theatre of Harlem principal dancer and the first African American choreographer to work at the Royal Opera in London—choreographed and designed the costumes for “Haiku”. In time the DTH repertoire includes works from more than 60 choreographers, including ballets created by company members.

The company men in Walter Raines’ ballet, "Haiku" (1973) by MarbethDance Theatre of Harlem

The company men in Walter Raines’ ballet, "Haiku"

“I remember sitting down after the performance at the Guggenheim and having a happy cry. After that we knew that it was all going to work.”

Walter Raines, DTH principal dancer.

Virginia Johnson in George Balanchine’s ballet "Agon" (1971) by MarbethDance Theatre of Harlem

Virginia Johnson in George Balanchine’s ballet "Agon"

Virginia Johnson, Dance Theatre of Harlem’s current Artistic Director, is featured in the ballet "Agon". DTH premiered "Agon" in Spoleto, Italy on June 27, 1971 at the Festival of Two Worlds. The pas de deux from the ballet was choreographed by George Balanchine, the Founder and Artistic Director of the New York City Ballet. Arthur Mitchell and Diana Adams premiered the work in 1957 for New York City Ballet and because of this connection, "Agon" was destined to enter the DTH repertoire. It remains a perennial favorite.

Sheila Rohan and company in Geoffrey Holder’s "Dougla" (1974/1975) by MarbethDance Theatre of Harlem

Geoffrey Holder (1930-2014) was an accomplished dancer, choreographer, painter, costume designer and director who won a Tony Award for best director and best costume design for the Broadway production of "The Wiz". The first African American man to be nominated in either category.

Holder provided choreography and the beautiful costume design for Dance Theatre of Harlem’s signature work, “Dougla.”

Dance Theatre of Harlem company members in Every Now and Then. (1975) by MarbethDance Theatre of Harlem

Dance Theatre of Harlem company members in “Every Now and Then”

DTH company members Walter Raines and William Scott co-choreographed “Every Now and Then” for 20 dancers. The ballet premiered in 1975 at the Uris Theatre and utilized music by the great Quincy Jones.

Lydia Abarca on the cover of Dance Magazine in Balanchine's Bugaku (1975) by MarbethDance Theatre of Harlem

Lydia Abarca in "Bugaku" on the cover of Dance Magazine, 1978

“Bugaku” was the fifth Balanchine ballet to be re-staged for DTH. Balanchine had commissioned Toshiro Mayuzumi to compose a ballet for symphonic orchestra in the Japanese court music style known as “Bugaku”. Principal artists Ronald Perry and Lydia Abarca premiered “Bugaku” in 1975 at the Uris Theatre, NYC.

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother meeting Arthur Mitchell before the performance (1976) by MarbethDance Theatre of Harlem

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother meeting Arthur Mitchell before the performance, 1976

By invitation of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Dance Theatre of Harlem was asked to participate in the Royal Variety Show.

“The first command performance we did for the Queen in London was very special. Josephine Baker was on the program and one afternoon she sang songs to us in different languages.”

Susan Lovelle, DTH Principal Dancer

Arthur Mitchell, staff and company members traveling by bus to their next performance. (1969/1972) by MarbethDance Theatre of Harlem

Arthur Mitchell, staff and company members traveling by bus to their next performance.

“In 1970, the company expanded its touring program and made its first tour outside the States to Bermuda, the Bahamas and Curacao … In July and August [1974] the company made its first appearance in London at Sadler’s Wells Theater. This was an overwhelming success and provided the historic theater with the greatest box office sale in its history. The house was sold to 106% capacity. A continental tour followed, including a command performance for King Olav V of Norway… DTH was now a major international company…”

DTH Co-Founder, Karel Shook
“The First Ten Years”

Susan Lovelle and Paul Russell performing the ballet, "Le Corsaire". (1977) by MarbethDance Theatre of Harlem

Susan Lovelle and Paul Russell performing the ballet, “Le Corsaire,” 1977

Classical ballet is a traditional and formal style with graceful and precise movements. One of the many examples of classical ballet in the DTH repertoire is, “Le Corsaire”. It is a romantic story of a brave pirate who falls in love with a slave girl and sets out to liberate her from the man who owns her. Choreographed by Marius Petipa, the ballet was performed as an excerpt and was re-staged for Dance Theatre of Harlem by Karel Shook.

Arthur Mitchell greeting Princess Margaret for a performance at Dance Theatre of Harlem (1971/1972) by MarbethDance Theatre of Harlem

Arthur Mitchell greeting Princess Margaret at the monthly Open House Series, ca. 1972


“Preparing for the royal visit of Princess Margaret was really something. The security people interviewed all employees and the bomb squad made an inspection. We were also told what to wear and the rules of protocol. We all forgot whether to bow or curtsy, so we ended up doing both.”

Shirley Mitchell Mills

From (R to L) Cicely Tyson, James Baldwin, Arthur Mitchell & Harry Belafonte (1969/1972) by MarbethDance Theatre of Harlem

(R to L) Cicely Tyson, James Baldwin, Arthur Mitchell & Harry Belafonte


Arthur Mitchell sought assistance from friends and luminaries of the arts and entertainment scene.

"Emergence! Out of darkness comes illumination. And radiant communication. And it is cause for joy."

Joseph Liebman

Credits: Story

Photographs by Marbeth
Copyright held by Dance Theatre of Harlem
Curated by Judy Tyrus

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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