Arizona Arts Live

Visionary ballet company Dance Theatre of Harlem is set to perform at Centennial Hall, Thursday, Nov. 10. 

The iconic company has traveled across the U.S. performing a show that encompasses what Artistic Director – and an American cultural icon — Virginia Johnson calls, the “different facets of ballet.”

Anthony Santos and Amanda Smith of Dance Theatre of Harlem. Photo by Rachel Neville.

DTH’s mission is eternal and has remained constant through its 53 years as a pioneer company in the world of classical ballet. The company was established by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook to make the point that ballet is an artform that belongs to everyone. Johnson explained that the company aims to constantly “express contemporary life [in a way] that is reflective of many cultures, not just Western European culture.”

Thursday’s show, presented by Arizona Arts Live, will feature four ballet works that demonstrate not only the company’s diversity of repertoire, but also the expansiveness of what modern classical ballet can be. 

>> Dance Theatre of Harlem | Get Tickets Here

“Different facets of ballet’

  1. Orange by Stanton Welch, is a “pure dance work” with classical style that is reminiscent and movement oriented. 
  2. A duet by Helen Pickett commissioned for their “Women Who Move Us” program, is a contemporary ballet work that draws on classical ballet vocabulary to reflect a relationship between two humans. Johnson outlined that this is a duet, rather than being classified as a traditional “pas de deux” is a duet, because of its contemporary nature. 
  3. Passage by Claudia Schreier, a commemoration of the anniversary of 1619, the arrival of the first Africans to the American shores. This piece is not as much a narrative work, but it is representative of the significance of the anniversary, “all of its joy and all of its maybe… not so much joy,” Johnson said.
  4. Higher Ground by Robert Garland set to the music of Stevie Wonder. Johnson identified this ballet as “a wonderful joyous expression of what it is to dance.”

Earlier this year Johnson announced her retirement from the visionary company, the first Black classical ballet company, bringing to a close a four decade-long chapter of dance history. 

Her tenure with this powerful presence in the world of ballet includes twelve years in her current role as Artistic Director, preceded by a staggering 28 years as a company member, highlighted by her distinction as a founding member and as a Principal Dancer. Johnson will become Artistic Director Emerita. She will be succeeded as Artistic Director by current acclaimed DTH Resident Choreographer and School Director Robert Garland. 

“DTH was the company that gave me the life I dreamed of,” said Johnson. “I had been told that I couldn’t be a ballerina and then, I got to be one. It was an amazing opportunity and I got to have a really amazing career. And now I am here. I am here to make sure that DTH continues, that other young people have the experience that I had, and that we can continue to open hearts and minds to this artform.”

Watch the Dance Theater of Harlem on the Centennial Hall stage Thursday, Nov. 10, at 7:30p. Tickets are on sale now on the Arizona Arts Live website.