Arthur Mitchell and Diana Adams in George Balanchine's Agon. Photo courtesy DM Archives

Ballet Trailblazer Arthur Mitchell Has Died

Former New York City Ballet principal dancer and Dance Theatre of Harlem founder Arthur Mitchell passed away today in a Manhattan hospital. He was 84 years old.

Mitchell originated the role of Puck in Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Oleaga Photography, Courtesy DM Archives

As a leading dancer with NYCB in the 1950s and '60s, Mitchell became indelibly associated with two roles created on him by George Balanchine: the central pas de deux in Agon (1957) and Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1962). Mitchell's performance of the athletic, entwining Agon pas de deux with Diana Adams—a white woman—caused a major stir during a moment in which America was rife with racial tension.


Mitchell in 1987, announcing DTH's tour of the Soviet Union. Photo by Marc Bryan-Brown, Courtesy DM Archives

It would have been enough to earn Mitchell's place in the history books, but he didn't stop there. In 1969, he struck out with Karel Shook to form Dance Theatre of Harlem. His mission: Change the perception that black dancers don't belong in ballet. Despite numerous financial scares, and a brief shut down and restructuring, DTH is still carrying out that mission. It has been under the direction of Virginia Johnson since 2009, and will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.

Throughout his career, Mitchell received numerous accolades, including a Dance Magazine Award (1975), a Kennedy Center Honor (1993), a MacArthur "genius" grant (1994) and the National Medal of the Arts (1995).

Mitchell teaching. Photo courtesy DM Archives

In January, we asked Mitchell whether the dance world had caught up to his dreams for it. He told us, "Name all the companies in America. How many have a leading African-American ballerina? There's only one in a major company, that's Misty Copeland in American Ballet Theatre. There's still work to be done."

Latest Posts


Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem

Cicely Tyson and the Enduring Legacy of Arthur Mitchell’s Dance Theatre of Harlem

Cicely Tyson, the legendary 96-year-old Black actress whose February 16 funeral at Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church was attended by, among others, Tyler Perry, Lenny Kravitz, and Bill and Hillary Clinton, is remembered for performances that transcended stereotypes and made an indelible impression on a nation's heart and soul.

Among the most fondly remembered is her breakout role in the 1972 movie Sounder, which depicts a Black sharecropper family's struggle to survive in the Jim Crow South. The role catapulted Tyson to stardom, winning her an Academy Award nomination and a reputation as someone committed to enhancing Blacks' representation in the arts. Throughout a seven-decade career, countless critically acclaimed, award-winning roles in films, onstage and on television reaffirmed that image. Yet one role reflecting the depth of that commitment is much less visible—the supporting one she played working with longtime friend Arthur Mitchell when he envisioned, shaped and established the groundbreaking Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

As Ballet Looks Toward Its Future, Let's Talk About Its Troubling Emotional Demands

As a ballet student, I distinctively remember being told that to survive ballet as a profession, one must be exceptionally thick-skinned and resilient. I always assumed it was because of the physically demanding nature of ballet: long rehearsal hours, challenging and stressful performances, and physical pain.

It wasn't until I joined a ballet company that I learned the true meaning behind those words: that the reason one needs thick skin is not because of the physical demands, but because of the unfair and unnecessary emotional demands.

Undoubtedly, emotional and physical strength go hand in hand to some extent. But the kind of emotional demand I am talking about here is different; it is not the strength one finds in oneself in moments of fatigue or unwillingness. It is the strength one must have when being bullied, humiliated, screamed at, manipulated or harassed.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Artists of the Australian Ballet perform the "Kingdom of the Shades" from La Bayadère. Lynette Wills, Courtesy Australian Ballet.

Catch the Australian Ballet’s Livestreamed Season Premiere This Weekend

After a yearlong hiatus, the Australian Ballet is ready to return to the stage. The company's season opener, titled Summertime at the Ballet, packs a great deal of firsts: It marks the ballet's first performance before a live audience since the start of the pandemic; the first time the company takes the stage under the leadership of its new artistic director, David Hallberg; and the first time Australian Ballet performs at the Melbourne & Olympic Parks Margaret Court Arena. Another important first: The performance will be livestreamed not only in Australia but all over the world. Summertime at the Ballet will be broadcast February 28 at 11:45 am AEDT (that's 7:45 pm EST on February 27 here in the U.S.), with bonus features, such as interviews and commentary. It will be accessible for 48 hours to accommodate all time zones.

This livestream will be provided via the Australian Ballet's newly launched digital platform, Live on Ballet TV. "One of my main goals is for the company to be seen by as many people around the world as possible," says Hallberg, the American-born international star who took the helm at the Australian Ballet in January. "Which is why Live on Ballet TV is such an integral part of my vision artistically."

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks