Arthur Mitchell is now a world-renowned choreographer, but before he had his chance on Broadway, he had to work hard for a chance to turn ballet into a career. While working numerous jobs from shoe-shining to delivering newspapers to support his family, Mitchell was also practicing ballet. In high school, his path to success truly began when he was accepted into the high school of the performing arts where he could practice ballet and hone skills that would lead him to become the highly acclaimed performer and artist that he is today.
That was in the 1950s. Following his graduation from high school, he would study at the School of American Ballet before debuting on Broadway in the opera Four Saints and Three Acts and later musicals like House of Flowers. As he blossomed into what would be one of the greatest dance careers of all time, Mitchell worked alongside some of ballet’s greatest creators including Balanchine.
All of this work eventually led Arthur Mitchell back to his origins in Harlem. There he opened the Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1969. Originally with a student body of 30 kids and a church basement for studio space, the Dance Theatre of Harlem was an innovation that Harlem was more than excited for. Within two months of its founding, the school was teaching ballet to 400 students. Today, the Dance Theater of Harlem is a prestigious institute that teaches many more students than that and is also home to a company of top performers whose exhibitions attract viewers from all over the world who want to see their exciting performances.
With such a long career history and such a great influence on ballet dancers, choreographers, and theaters, Mitchell’s records from photographs to videos are finding a new home where they can be studied and understood as a monument not only to his spectacular career but also to his impact on the dance world and Harlem. Mitchell generously donated his archive to the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Columbia University in New York City where it is now available for studies, exhibitions, lectures, and preservation.
If you have ever wanted an in-depth look at Arthur Mitchell’s life and career, Columbia University has the archive on display in a current exhibition running from January 13 – March 11, 2018. The exhibition features pictures, sketches, costumes, posters, and other memorabilia from Mitchell’s career as well as video of his work and performances. Titled Arthur Mitchell: Harlem’s Ballet Trailblazer, the exhibition, and its accompanying activities and public programs are something you don’t want to miss out on.