Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Dance Theatre of Harlem in South Africa Miles Away from the Violence in the Ciskei Region, Township Children Learn Ballet, Jazz, and Tap from American Dancers in an Unusual Outreach Program in Johannesburg. the Harlem Dancers Also Perform Sept. 15-27. A Monitor Writer Visited the Dance Theatre of Harlem Prior to Their South Africa Trip

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Dance Theatre of Harlem in South Africa Miles Away from the Violence in the Ciskei Region, Township Children Learn Ballet, Jazz, and Tap from American Dancers in an Unusual Outreach Program in Johannesburg. the Harlem Dancers Also Perform Sept. 15-27. A Monitor Writer Visited the Dance Theatre of Harlem Prior to Their South Africa Trip

Article excerpt

FREEDOM has always been an expensive thing." Martin Luther King's words grace the portrait that hangs in the black-and-white tiled lobby of the Dance Theatre of Harlem. That idea has never been more appropriate than now that Dance Theatre of Harlem is about to perform in Johannesburg.

Arthur Mitchell, a former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, formed the Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) 23 years ago as part of his commitment to youth from his neighborhood following the assassination of Martin Luther King. The company is composed primarily of African-Americans, but it includes a mixture of races.

DTH, presently located in Harlem between a weed-filled lot and an apartment building, opened as a small ballet school in the basement of a Harlem church. The company now owns a building in the heart of the neighborhood where Mitchell grew up. The school is packing up and moving to Manhattan for about a year while their building is renovated and expanded.

Dance Theatre's invitation from the Market Theatre Foundation to reopen the renovated Civic Theatre in Johannesburg is unprecedented. In addition to performances, the company's dancers plan workshops in the townships for school-age children, community outreach programs with lecture-demonstrations, and master classes.

"We're dealing with a total unknown - a country that has been shut off. We are opening the doors. This is the first cultural exchange since the {world economic} bans were lifted. Imagine...," says Mr. Mitchell.

Before signing the contract, Mitchell insisted on several conditions: All political sides had to endorse the engagement, including Nelson Mandela's African National Congress, the Inkatha Freedom Party, Frederik de Klerk's National Party, and the Pan Africanist Congress.

He also insisted that the workshops be free of charge, that free buses be provided from the townships, and that subsidized tickets be available. "It's one thing to say the audience is integrated," he says. "It's another thing to set the prices so these people can afford it.

"The performances normally would be the focal point. It's almost secondary here in terms of community outreach, which is the crux of this tour," says Mitchell, interviewed just days before the first dancers left for Johannesburg. Dressed casually in a mauve open-necked shirt and black trousers, Mitchell explains that the outreach program is intended to teach people all facets of a dance company - from the artistic side to the business end. To do that he is taking to South Africa people involved in every aspect of the company - board members, conductors, choreographers, dancers, and wardrobe consultants.

These programs are being offered to aspiring South African dancers through the Market Theatre Foundation, which provides educational programs to bridge the educational gap caused by apartheid in rural areas. DTH has received numerous requests for classes, including one for a tap class from a tribe in the townships whose native dance resembles tap. …

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