In 1956 George Balanchine invited Arthur Mitchell to join New York City Ballet, and Mitchell went on to international fame as a NYCB principal, noted as much for his charismatic personality as his virtuosic versatility. But he remained the only black dancer on NYCB’s roster. Occasionally other ballet companies would engage a black man, but black women were unheard of on ballet stages. The excuse most frequently offered by ballet management was that black women’s bodies were physically different in carriage and proportion and lacked the pure classic line. So black women gave up on ballet and studied modern, jazz, tap, and African dance. But in 1968 Mitchell was stirred to action by the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. He opened a ballet school in Harlem and trained youngsters there in the centuries-old traditions of European ballet. Within a couple of years he was proudly showing off his young company to worldwide acclaim. Now, after a six-year absence, Dance Theatre of Harlem–the only all-black classical dance troupe–returns to Chicago to perform two separate programs (see listing for details). At the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress; $15-$50. Call 902-1500 for tickets and info or 431-2357 for group sales.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Martha Swope.