Arthur Mitchell: Ballet Legend and Pioneer Dies at 84

Arthur Mitchell, Founder of Dance Theatre of Harlem, Grand Marshal 2018 African American Day Parade (Source: YouTube)
Arthur Mitchell, Founder of Dance Theatre of Harlem, Grand Marshal 2018 African American Day Parade (Source: YouTube)
Portrait of Arthur Mitchell (Photo: Carl Van Vechten/Wikimedia Commons)
[/media-credit] Portrait of Arthur Mitchell

By Nsenga Burton Ph.D., NNPA Newswire Contributor

The world is mourning the loss of legendary choreographer Arthur Mitchell. Mitchell, who danced with the New York City Ballet from 1956-1968 and founded the groundbreaking and world renown Dance Theater of Harlem died Wednesday of heart failure. Jennifer Dunning of The New York Times writes:

“Mr. Mitchell, the first black ballet dancer to achieve international stardom, was one of the most popular dancers with New York City Ballet, where he danced from 1956 to 1968 and displayed a dazzling presence, superlative artistry and powerful sense of self.

That charisma served him well as the director of Dance Theater of Harlem, the nation’s first major black classical company, as it navigated its way through severe financial problems in recent decades and complex aesthetic questions about the relationship of black contemporary dancers to an 18th-century European art form.”

Social media tributes have been pouring in for the game changer.

Mitchell attended the School of American Ballet in New York City, eventually joining the City Ballet where he would study with world famous dancer George Balanchine. Mitchell performed with acclaimed dancer Diana Adams in what would be a groundbreaking performance of Agon Pas de Deux, breaking racial barriers in ballet. Mitchell performed with City Ballet in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” for which he is greatly remembered. Mitchell also performed in Balanchine’s “Requiem Canticles,” which was a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Following his assassination in 1968. It was this critically-acclaimed performance that inspired him to co-found the Dance Theater of Harlem with mentor Karel Shook in 1969, proving to the world that ballet is for everyone.

Mitchell was 84.

About Nsenga K. Burton Ph.D. 19 Articles
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is an award-winning writer, entrepreneur and professor living her best life with her daughter Kai and fur-son Mr. Miyagi. She is founder and editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire, a news blog covering news of the African Diaspora. Dr. Burton is an expert in the intersection of race, class, gender, sexuality and media related industries. An activist scholar, Nsenga has authored numerous articles on the subject and recently co-edited a book on Black Women’s Mental Health. You can see and hear her on radio, tv and new media waxing poetic about these issues. In her spare time she vacillates between fighting the power and Happy Hour. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual.

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