Patricia Delgado in Pam Tanowitz's "Solo for Patricia 2017." Photo by Erin Baiano, Courtesy Vail Dance Festival.

Onstage This Week: Justin Peck Makes His Vail Dance Fest Choreographic Debut, Two Premieres at American Contemporary Ballet, and More!

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.


Vail Dance Fest Enters Its Second Week

With half a month devoted to creating new art in the midst of stunning nature, Vail Dance Festival seems a dancer's paradise. Last week marked American Ballet Theatre's festival debut. The second week of performances, starting July 30, brings even more amazing ballet, with dancers and choreographers presenting a slew of new collaborations and premieres. Get the scoop on each program below.

Alonzo King LINES Ballet Takes the Vail Stage

July 30-31, Alonzo King LINES Ballet presents two different programs. The first performance, is a free, family-friendly event held in the Avon Performance Pavilion. The second, held at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, presents two works by King: Sand, a piece from 2016 set to jazz music, and Biophony, an exploration of the Earth's diverse ecosystems.


Justin Peck Makes His Vail Choreographic Debut

UpClose, a program devoted to festival debuts held August 1, is curated by Vail artistic director Damian Woetzel and presented "rehearsal-style," with a focus on the relationship between dance and music. The two works presented feature collaborations with Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw, Vail's 2018 Leonard Bernstein Composer-In-Residence. The first is choreographed by Justin Peck, marking his Vail choreographic debut. The second is postmodern choreographer Pam Tanowitz's Blueprint, which premiered at the Kennedy Center last March and features former Miami City Ballet star (and Peck's fiancé), Patricia Delgado. Can't make it to the show? Watch Blueprint in the video below.


International Evenings of Dance Unite Dancers from Major Companies

Two International Evenings of Dance, held August 3 and August 4 are set to feature upwards of 30 dancers ranging from tap extraordinaire Michelle Dorrance to Memphis jooker Lil Buck to ballet stars from American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, The Royal Ballet and more. The programs will feature debuts and collaborations yet to be revealed. Highlights of the all-star cast include ABT's Isabella Boylston and Misty Copeland, NYCB's Tiler Peck and Joseph Gordon, Boston Ballet's Misa Kuranaga, and Francesca Hayward of The Royal Ballet. Watch clips from last year's performance below.


American Contemporary Ballet Presents Two Vastly Different Premieres

August 2-12, Los Angeles-based American Contemporary Ballet will premiere a pair of new ballets by artistic director Lincoln Jones. Candide Overture celebrates the centennial of composer Leonard Bernstein and pays tribute to his jubilant, rhythmic dance music. Transfigured Night explores the internal life of a pair of lovers when one has just revealed a dramatic secret. The music is an early work of 19th and 20th century composer Arnold Schoenberg.


Ballet Hawaii's Sleeping Beauty Brings in Stars from the Mainland

August 3–5, Ballet Hawaii is bringing guest artists from across the continental U.S. to Honolulu for a collaborative production of The Sleeping Beauty in association with Kansas City Ballet. While Ballet Hawaii summer intensive students make up the bulk of the cast, KCB's Amaya Rodriguez and Liang Fu will dance as Princess Aurora and Prince Desiré. Plus, guest artists Katherine Williams of American Ballet Theatre will dance Beauty/Candite and Lesley Rausch of Pacific Northwest Ballet will perform the role of the Lilac Fairy. This production is truly a group effort; Cincinnati Ballet is also lending a hand by providing the costumes!


Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur Opens with BalletMet's Romeo and Juliet

National Ballet of Canada principal Guillaume Côté's summer project, the Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur, runs August 2-12 in Montreal. BalletMet opens the festival with artistic director Edwaard Liang's production of Romeo and Juliet August 2-3. The second week will see appearances by Côté's colleagues at NBoC, as well as performances by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Toronto Dance Theatre. This will be the 26th year of the festival, which Côté has curated and directed since 2015.


International Ballet Festival of Miami Youth Gala

To continue the jam-packed season of summer dance fests, the XXIII International Ballet Festival of Miami's first performance, the Youth Gala, takes place this Saturday, August 4 at the Lehman Theater at Miami Dade College North campus. This showcase of young talent from the U.S. and abroad is intended to promote arts education in the Miami area. Galas with professional dancers from around the world continue next week. In addition, the festival also hosts movie screenings, workshops, master classes and book and art exhibits, all related to dance and the arts. Preview the various performances taking place through August 19 below.

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From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

Lydia Abarca Mitchell, Arthur Mitchell's First Ballerina, Builds On Her Mentor's Legacy in Atlanta

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.


For more than 25 years, coaching at Ballethnic has been a lifeline back to Abarca Mitchell's days with DTH. She had a stellar career, both with the company and beyond, but left the stage at age 30 after an injury sustained performing in Dancin' on Broadway. Her husband's job transferred them to Atlanta, where she transitioned to a full-time job as a medical transcriptionist while raising a family. Now retired from her second career, Abarca Mitchell continues to forward Arthur Mitchell's legacy, not only through coaching but also by building community among DTH alumni and writing her memoirs—a fairy-tale story of a child who came from the Harlem public-housing projects and became a trailblazing Black ballerina.

Abarca Mitchell grew up during the 1950s and '60s, the oldest of seven in a tight-knit family. She always danced, taking cues from Hollywood figures until a fourth-grade teacher saw her talent and encouraged her to seek formal training. The family couldn't afford ballet lessons, but Abarca Mitchell earned a scholarship to attend The Juilliard School's Saturday youth program, and later the Harkness Ballet's professional training program. But for all of those ballet classes, Abarca Mitchell never had the opportunity to see or perform in a ballet production. She didn't understand the purpose behind ballet's tedious class exercises.

When the fast-growing Harkness Ballet moved its scholarship students to the June Taylor Studio on Broadway, Abarca Mitchell remembers hearing live drumming, clapping and laughter coming from the studio across the hall. It was a jazz class taught by Jaime Rogers, who'd played Loco in the West Side Story movie. Abarca Mitchell started sneaking into Rogers' classes.

When Harkness informed her that her scholarship was exclusively for ballet, Abarca Mitchell left the program. She saw no future for herself in the white-dominated ballet world, and focused on academics during her last two years of high school.

At 17, Abarca Mitchell met Arthur Mitchell. He had made history as the first Black principal dancer with New York City Ballet, which he had joined in 1955, and had just begun to shape what would become Dance Theatre of Harlem when he hired Abarca Mitchell in 1968. Within a month, she was back on pointe. Within two months, she was performing in Arthur Mitchell's Tones. "I didn't even know what ballet was until I was onstage," Abarca Mitchell says. "All of a sudden, it was my heart and soul."

Arthur Mitchell made sure his dancers saw NYCB perform, and subsequently brought Balanchine's Agon, Concerto Barocco and other NYCB works into the DTH repertoire. "Physically and emotionally, I felt the connection of jazz in Balanchine's choreography," Abarca Mitchell says. "His neoclassical style was just funky to me. I could totally relate."

For the first time, Abarca Mitchell danced with people who looked like her and shared the same aspirations, she says, with a leader who "saw us through his eyes of love and achievement."

In Abarca Mitchell's 30s, after a performing career that took her from DTH to the film version of The Wiz to Bob Fosse's Dancin' and beyond, her husband's job took their family to Atlanta. She soon connected with Gilreath and Waverly Lucas. The couple, also DTH alumni, were influenced by Arthur Mitchell's model when they founded Ballethnic, seeking to create access for dancers of all backgrounds to develop as classical dancers and perform a repertoire that represents the company's culturally diverse home city. Over time, Abarca Mitchell became a trusted advisor.

Abarca Mitchell goes in at least twice a year to coach Ballethnic's productions—such as Urban Nutcracker, set in Atlanta's historically Black Sweet Auburn neighborhood, and The Leopard Tale, which features the company's signature blend of classical pointe work with polyrhythmic dance forms of the African diaspora. These final rehearsals give Abarca Mitchell a way to fast-track the transfer of her mentor's values.

Two dancers in blue and black practice clothes and face masks, the woman in pointe shoes, pose together in a first arabesque tendu. Abarca Mitchell steps out of a mirrored pose as she adjusts the fingertips of the male dancer.

Lydia Abarca Mitchell works with Ballethnic's Calvin Gentry and Karla Tyson.

Courtesy Ballethnic Dance Company

She recalls that Arthur Mitchell taught his dancers to present themselves at their finest—to enter a room with their heads held high and shoulders back—and to dress, speak and walk with dignity and self-respect. He reminded them that they were pioneers and ambassadors for Blacks in ballet. As the company gained international stature—Abarca Mitchell was the first Black female ballerina to appear on the cover of Dance Magazine, in 1975—he insisted the dancers remain humble and in service to the greater mission. But he was also a taskmaster. "No nonsense, no excuses," Abarca Mitchell says. "There was no slack. If he was rehearsing something that you're not in, you'd better be on the side learning it."

"He didn't throw compliments around at all. You had to really kill yourself to get a smile from him." After a run-through, she says, "you didn't want to be singled out."

Abarca Mitchell takes a slightly different approach, though she doesn't compromise on the values her mentor instilled. When coaching large casts of all ages and different levels for Ballethnic, she has found ways to inspire people without tearing them down. She calls it a "tough love" approach.

"I've got to make them want to do it. I don't want to beat them into doing it," Abarca Mitchell says. "I tell them, 'You're here because you want to be, and because you auditioned and were accepted. Now, show me why I should keep you here.'"

"I tell them, 'I'm here to make sure you'll look good—you know: 'That looks fake. Let's make it look real. Think about what you're doing, so that it's not just a gesture.'"

Arthur Mitchell instilled this level of emotional honesty in his dancers, and it was key to the company's quick success. "We were bringing a thought forward," says Abarca Mitchell. "We were bringing a feeling forward, so that the audience could connect with us."

In addition to her position as rehearsal director for Ballethnic, Abarca Mitchell is today part of 152nd Street Black Ballet Legacy, a group of DTH alumni who seek to give voice to people responsible for the company's success in its early years. "It's incredible," she says, "how many people took something from DTH and applied it to their lives."

As Ballethnic prepares to co-host the International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference and Festival in January 2022, Abarca Mitchell hopes to help strengthen the network of dance companies associated with Ballethnic, such as Memphis' Collage Dance Collective. "The dream is for all of us to collaborate with each other," she says, "so that it becomes more normal to see a Black ballerina, so it's not just a token appearance."

Today's young dancers face different challenges from what Abarca Mitchell faced. She finds that they're more easily distracted, and sometimes act entitled, because they don't know or appreciate how hard earlier Black ballerinas like herself worked to clear a path for them. But what she's passing on will benefit them, whether they choose to pursue dance careers or become doctors, lawyers, professors or something else entirely. "The principles are the same," she says. "Work for what you want, and you will achieve it."

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