A dance company known for breathing new life into a typically regimented form of art will share its talent in Columbia while spreading its message of education and innovation.
Dance Theatre of Harlem will perform Tuesday, Feb. 2, at the Koger Center for the Arts, hosted by the USC Department of Theatre and Dance. The company was founded in New York City by Arthur Mitchell – the first African-American to be a permanent member of a major U.S. ballet company – and his teacher Karel Shook as an outlet for African-American artists denied opportunities from other companies because of race. The company continues today by educating people of all backgrounds about dance.
Artistic director Virginia Johnson said two USC dance assistant professors, Tanya Wideman-Davis and Thaddeus Davis, are DTH alumni who were instrumental in having the company come to Columbia.
Davis and Wideman-Davis performed and contributed original choreography to the company. Wideman-Davis was with DTH from 1993 to 2002 and became principal dancer in 2000.
“By the time I became a DTH company member, ballet companies in America were beginning to experiment with maybe having one visibly black woman in their company,” Wideman-Davis said.
She said seeing a whole company of black women of all shades and hues was empowering for her, and she did not want her first professional dance experience to be with a white ballet company.
“Without DTH, many talented black artists would not have had the opportunity to have ballet careers,” she said. “The ballet identity unfortunately has been reserved and still is promoted as a singular white identity. DTH re-traditionalizes that identity and makes you question who gets to define and perform aesthetic values of ballet.”
Johnson, a former prima ballerina, said a goal of DTH is to expose young people of all shapes, sizes, colors, creeds and races to the arts.
“We believe this is something that gives them a sense of self, a sense of possibility and it gives them a sense of inspiration.” she said. “… We are all human beings that need to have the arts as a part of our lives.”
Johnson said the company will perform a work by Dianne McIntyre, a legendary choreographer, and the company’s popular repertoire. Some works include combining classical ballet with music by Aretha Franklin and James Brown.
Johnson said those attending should expect to see ballet like they have never experienced before.
“We’re doing work that are very much alive in the 21st century today rather than thinking about ballet as something that belongs to the 19th century,” she said. “We do cross boundaries. We very much are about using the classical ballet language in as many ways as possible.”
Dance Theatre of Harlem
WHERE: Koger Center for the Arts, 1051 Greene St.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2
TICKETS: $20-$40, www.kogercenterforthearts.com or (803) 777-5112. Special tickets for $75 include an orchestra seat and a post-concert reception with the artists; call the University of South Carolina dance program office, (803) 777-5636.