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Dance Theatre of Harlem: Forty years of firsts at Reginald Lewis Museum

4/10/2015, 9 a.m.
The Reginald F. Lewis Museum welcomes Dance Theatre of Harlem: Forty Years of Firsts, an exhibition highlighting the many accomplishments ...

— The Reginald F. Lewis Museum welcomes Dance Theatre of Harlem: Forty Years of Firsts, an exhibition highlighting the many accomplishments of African Americans and other minorities who defied stereotypes and gravity itself, to pursue their passion and pave the way for future generations of artists. The exhibit opens Saturday, April 18, 2015 and runs until Sunday, August 30, 2015.

When the dancers were told that African American bodies were not built for classical ballet, they mastered classical repertoire like Giselle, then set it in Creole society in Louisiana, to give it a distinctly American twist.

Central to the themes of the exhibition is the story of founder Arthur Mitchell himself. Mitchell was selected by legendary choreographer George Balanchine to join the New York City Ballet. As the only African American dancer of a major ballet company at the time, Mitchell’s rise was a historic achievement in pre-Civil Rights America. He became a principal dancer within the company then founded Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1969 in a church basement in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. It was Mitchell’s way of giving back to his community, in honor of the late civil rights leader.

The inspirational story of the ballet company, as well as its social and artistic impact, is brought to life in this exhibition of costumes, historical photographs, set pieces, and video excerpts. The objects are from two productions that are iconic to the company: Firebird and Creole Giselle. In addition to the costumes and staged ballets, the exhibition includes artifacts such as original tour programs, letters from choreographers and dignitaries, magazine articles, design bibles, and original tour posters.

The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture is located at 830 East Pratt Street in Baltimore. For more information about the exhibition, museum hours and tickets, visit: www.rflewismuseum.org/special-exhibition.