Arthur Mitchell: Ballet Legend and Pioneer Dies at 84

By Nsenga K. 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.

Portrait of Arthur Mitchell (Photo: Carl Van Vechten/Wikimedia Commons)

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