Dance Theatre of Harlem visited Chicago for three performances at the Auditorium Theatre. Dance Theatre of Harlem infuses the traditional styles of ballet while celebrating African American culture. The company performed a piece by Francesca Harper called “System” that not only celebrates African American culture but speaks to a consistent pattern of injustice.
Rolling out spoke with Virginia Johnson, the artistic director of Dance Theatre of Harlem, at a reception hosted by Homer Bryant and The Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center, home of the Hiplet Ballerinas. She explained why Dance Theatre of Harlem is so important to Black people and the nation as a whole.
“Dance Theatre of Harlem was founded 47 years ago by Arthur Mitchell and Carl Shook. Arthur Shook was the first African American to be a permanent member of an American ballet company,” Johnson says. “That is significant because for such a long time people thought that ballet belonged to just one group of people, that it was exclusive to one group of people. Arthur Mitchell was a trailblazer to be able to enter into that realm. He knew he had to expand that mission beyond just his personal success. He wanted people to know that this art form belongs to everyone and should be done by everyone. Every time the curtain goes up for Dance Theatre of Harlem, it’s an affirmation of the fact that given access and opportunity it can belong to everyone.”
The performance of Nacho Duato’s “Coming Together” was the highlight of the evening. It was a high-energy spectacle with a deeply rooted message in humanity and the idea of working together from within and outside of yourself. A message that is much-needed in these current times.