Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

A Batter Rebirth

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

A Batter Rebirth

Article excerpt

Dance Theatre of Harlem is welcomed back


When the lights came up on the final company to perform in "Ballet Across America," the Kennedy Center's showcase of nine regional troupes from across the country, there was a burst of ecstatic applause before any of the dancers had taken even a single step.

It was a sign of America's enduring love for the country's first African American ballet company, Dance Theatre of Harlem, which is making a comeback after eight years on hiatus due to a more than $2 million debt.

While it has shrunk from 44 dancers to a mere 18, all but two of whom are new, the company showed it has lost none of the unique hybrid style and technical sophistication that earned it a following from the moment of its founding, by former New York City Ballet principal Arthur Mitchell, in 1969.

Performing resident choreographer Robert Garland's 13-year-old "Return" to the feel-good music of James Brown and Aretha Franklin, DTH easily stole the limelight from North Carolina Dance Theatre and Ballet Austin, the other companies on the final bill of this ballet sampler, in which the Sarasota Ballet also participated.

In a discussion among the three companies' artistic directors following the performance, former DTH principal dancer Virginia Johnson, charged by Mitchell himself with resurrecting the company, called it "a very exciting moment in history" for the 44-year-old troupe.

"This is the new Dance Theatre of Harlem," said Johnson, who returned in 2010 to the company and its school, which remained in operation over the hiatus. "It's brand new, but everyone understands the legacy and what it means to preserve this work."

When the company stopped touring in 2004, Johnson said the pause was intended to last only for a matter of months.

However, given economic recession and the ongoing challenge of funding dance these days, the closure stretched to eight years.

Now revived, with almost the entire administrative staff made up of former DTH dancers, it has renewed its commitment to the distinct blend of classical ballet and African American cultural dance that earned it renown. …

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