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Ballet Trailblazer Arthur Mitchell Has Died

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

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."

The Conversation
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Photo by Lucas Chilczuk, courtesy of Brooklyn Ballet.

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Danielle MacInnes via Unsplash

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Haley Schwan. Photo by Brooke Trisolini, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

Haley Schwan's artistic journey toward becoming a Boston Ballet company artist has been anything but ordinary. From the Vaganova Ballet Academy and Staatsballett Berlin to immersive theater in New York City and choreographing for the MTV Video Music Awards, Schwan has had some unusual detours. But the 26-year-old with a warm demeanor and quick smile seems to be enjoying the ride.

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Finding Clara Trailer youtu.be

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Courtesy Justice Studios

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Elisabeth Beyer may only be 16, but she is already cultivating an international following. A Professional Training Program student at Ellison Ballet in New York City, this year she won first place in the senior women's finals at the Youth America Grand Prix in New York and the junior gold medal at the USA International Ballet Competition. In late October, she had the opportunity to perform Grand Pas Classique at the 26th Havana International Ballet Festival in a gala alongside stars from The Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, La Scala and, of course, Cuban National Ballet. Her partner was Cuban-born international guest artist Daniel Sarabia, and the two only had a short time to prepare. We caught up with her to talk about what the whirlwind experience was like.

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Yuri Possokhov's "The Nutcracker" www.youtube.com

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Sixteen-year-old Sofia Castán Vargas on the steps of the Cuban National Ballet School. Photo by Leysis Quesada, courtesy Vargas.

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Joel Prouty (far right) trains professional dancers such as James Whiteside, Katherine Williams, Lloyd Knight and Lauren Post. Photo courtesy Prouty

A good personal trainer can coach you through a challenging, safe workout. A great one understands the unique demands dance places on your body and helps you correct specific weaknesses to make you an even stronger performer. Enter Joel Prouty.

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Ballet Careers
"With the recent passing of Mr. Mitchell, I feel an even greater responsibility to share and grow the vision he began," says longtime company member Lindsey Croop. "Art is both transformative and transcendent, and because of DTH, there is a place for everyone." Photo by Kyle Froman for Pointe.ne."

"Keep the rhythm going," calls Robert Garland, Dance Theatre of Harlem's resident choreographer, from the front of the studio. Five company women pulse through a series of syncopated pony steps, upright arabesque sissonnes and funky, Motown-inspired dance moves. It's an open rehearsal in early September, and the company is giving curious audience members a sneak peek at Garland's upcoming world premiere—one of several new works this season as DTH celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Founded in 1969 by former New York City Ballet principal Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook, DTH was groundbreaking in its makeup of mostly African-American dancers, and its insistence that they could excel in ballet. "We were a bunch of dancers who had been told no, we couldn't do this, and Mr. Mitchell was giving us a chance to show that we could," says artistic director Virginia Johnson, a founding company member and former principal. "He was a very demanding taskmaster—he knew there was something very important to prove and that it was on us to prove it."

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Everything Nutcracker
New York City Ballet soloist Georgina Pazcoguin. Photo by Nick Nakahara, Courtesy Pazcoguin.

As conversations in the ballet world about race and representation have opened up in the past few years, its most beloved holiday tradition, The Nutcracker, has come under scrutiny as well. Last year New York City Ballet made changes to its second act Chinese Tea variation, removing elements of racial caricature from both the costume and makeup and the choreography.

NYCB soloist Georgina Pazcoguin, who is part Filipino, was one of the voices fighting for that change. This year, as companies and schools worldwide are gearing up for Nutcracker season, Pazcoguin, along with former dancer and arts administrator Phil Chan, is back with a new campaign. Final Bow For Yellowface is an online platform dedicated to educating companies and schools on how to veer away from offensive Asian stereotypes (yellowface) and providing resources on how to make those changes. The site also lets readers join dance world luminaries including Virginia Johnson, Julie Kent, Adam Sklute, Troy Schumacher and Christopher Wheeldon in signing a pledge to end the practice of yellowface onstage. We touched base with Pazcoguin to hear about how this initiative came to be, and what she and Chan have in the works for the future.

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Just for fun
Screenshot of Bolshoi Ballet's Olga Smirnova as The Queen of the Dryads. Courtesy of Fathom Events.

The Bolshoi is back in U.S. movie theaters on December 2, and judging from this clip, you don't want to miss it. As part of its 5th annual Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Series with Fathom Events, Pathé Live and BY Experience, the world-famous company's performance of Don Quixote will be streamed in theaters across the U.S.

Staged by Alexei Fadeyechev, Sunday's performance of Don Quixote will star principal dancers Ekaterina Krysanova as Kitri and Semyon Chudin as Basilio. You can visit Fathom Events here to find your nearest theater. But in the meantime, watch this exclusive clip of principal dancer Olga Smirnova as The Queen of the Dryads before you see her on the big screen.

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News
Diana Vishneva explores Aurora's 100-year sleep. Photo by Inna Nebeluk, Courtesy Sleeping Beauty Dreams.

This winter, the renowned Russian dancer Diana Vishneva will appear in her most high-profile project since she retired from American Ballet Theatre in 2017. The 42-year-old prima ballerina, who gave birth to her first child, Rudolf Victor, last May, is set to star in the ambitious, technologically innovative multimedia production Sleeping Beauty Dreams, choreographed by Edward Clug. The production will also star Marcelo Gomes as Prince Peter. Inspired by the provocative question "What did Princess Aurora dream during her 100-year sleep?", Sleeping Beauty Dreams premieres December 7–8 at Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and continues to New York City's Beacon Theatre December 14–15, before moving on to what promotors say will be a two-part international tour.

Sleeping Beauty Dreams New Trailer youtu.be

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Viral Videos
Sasha De Sola and Hansuke Yamamoto in George Balanchine's Divertimento No. 15. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy San Francisco Ballet.

Master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based The Pointe Shop touches base with San Francisco Ballet principal Sasha De Sola on all of her pointe shoe hacks, from darning to stirrup tights to customizations. Plus, we think De Sola might win the award for how quickly she kills her pointe shoes. (Hint: It's under an hour).

SFB Principal Sasha De Sola's Pointe Shoe Hacks www.youtube.com

Trending
Screenshot via YouTube

As all bunheads know, there's so much more to dancing on pointe than sewing and bourées. In this new video, The Australian Ballet lays it all out for us, from A-Z. Or rather from "Arch" to "Zzzzzz's." Using a super fast-paced style, this four-and-a-half minute long video skips back and forth between ultra-sleek minimalism and sepia-toned nostalgia. Both educational and insider-y (see "cashews" at 0:54), this video includes some gorgeous shots (Apollo-inspired arabesques at 2:00) interspersed with quirky humor (note adorable pointe shoe bed at 3:53).

So here you go, "A to Z En Pointe." Did they miss any?

A TO Z EN POINTE www.youtube.com

Site Network
Harkness Promise Awardees Raja Feather Kelly and Ephrat Asherie. Photos by Kate Shot Me and Matthew Murphy

The Dance Magazine Awards are almost here. As we look forward to the celebration on Monday night, we're sharing an excerpt from the program—a letter written by our CEO Frederic Seegal:

The 61st year of the Dance Magazine Awards represents a major step forward. It extends the reach of the awards and now marks the second year of our collaboration with the Harkness Foundation for Dance, thus uniting two iconic organizations.

Firstly, this will be the inaugural presentation of the Harkness Promise Awards, which recognizes new talent at the upswing of their careers. Nurturing emerging artists, especially choreographers, is critical to ensuring dance's role in today's cultural landscape.

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Everything Nutcracker
Moscow Ballet's "Russian Variation." Courtesy Moscow Ballet.

Moscow Ballet's Great Russian Nutcracker is not your average Nut. In 1994, the production debuted in six cities across the U.S. This winter, three simultaneously traveling companies of Russian dancers will bring the ballet to 137 cities, incorporating up to 120 local children in each location. For Mary Talmi, co-founder and producer of Talmi Entertainment, which produces the show, this is no small feat. "The role of arts education in this country is needed more than ever, and the more expansive our tour is, the more I realize that the benefits to the children are way beyond dance," she says.

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