The Dance Theatre of Harlem dances into Chicago for the second year of the return of the DTH Touring Company. And what a return! All shiny and new with eighteen talented dancers spearheaded by its Artistic Director, Virginia Johnson and Resident Choreographer, Robert Garland. Our city is headed for a dance treat at the Auditorium Theater, November 21 through the 23rd.
Speaking with Mr. Garland, the Defender got to chat about the history of the company, the standards of the company and the relationships fostered that are all, oh so Chicago!
The DTH was started in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell – the Jackie Robinson of Ballet. Mr. Mitchell was the first Black Principal Dancer of the New York City Ballet and soon after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, decided he needed to do more. With his own earnings and his former teacher, Kerol Shook, started the company – training, educating and touring – all with a Black focus. Mitchell even had his eye to the dancers’ legs. At a time when all ballerinas performed in the classic pink tights, Mr. Mitchell insisted upon tights dyed the many hues of his dancers – from champagne to mahogany. Tights the colors of Black skin became one of the many hallmarks of the company. He insisted on the dancers legs being the same as arms and faces – in not “breaking the line”.
In 2004, because of budgetary issues, the touring arm of the company shut down for what the company thought would be a year or two in which to restructure, reflect and build up their coffers. The year or two turned into nearly ten, but now they are back with renewed vitality and talent. Ms. Johnson – previously a principal dancer for DTH and editor of Pointe magazine was asked by Mr. Mitchell to return as Artistic Director and then the pair was complete with the addition of Mr. Garland!
Robert Garland was a principal dancer with the DTH, before honing his craft as a choreographer. At the Chicago leg of the tour, our audiences will be delighted with his signature dance, “The Return” and also a new work, “Gloria”, which was created for this new and stunning company.
Garland, had once thought that “…if the New York thing didn’t work out…”, Chicago was the place for him. Thankfully for the dance world, that “New York thing” did work. But a little of his heart and the heart of DTH has always been touched by Chicago. Because of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Chicago has DTH alum Homer Bryant’s Multicultural Dance Center, the Joffrey Ballet’s Education program was headed by DTH alum, Pierre Lockett and Prima Ballerina, Endalyn Taylor who ran the DTH training school until a few years ago, has returned to the Midwest and is now at Champaign-Urbana.
The new company is filled with new talent from Shreveport to Sao Paolo. Some of the dancers have danced with the DTH school and its training programs. One of the brightest, Jenelle Figgins of Washington D.C., not only studied with DTH, but also at the DTH’s Kennedy Center Residency and Summer Intensive. She has just been honored as a 2014 Princess Grace Awardee.
Garland is thrilled with the new direction and talent of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and Chicago undoubtedly, will be as well.