Dancing for Today and Tomorrow

The creative spirit of Dance Theatre of Harlem is now visible virtually

18 Oct 2020 | 12:18

Dance Theatre of Harlem’s “Dancing Through Harlem” is the art we need now. En pointe, in slippers or sneakers, on subway platforms and streets, and at waterfronts and office buildings, eight masked dancers from DTH celebrate movement, music and New York in a performance that renews, reinvigorates and reaffirms love of dance, art and the city. It’s breathtaking and uplifting, and in August, the company shared it with the world via a video that’s gone viral.

The creative spirit may have moved indoors and six feet apart, but it hasn’t stopped. Creators create. For every moment of dance, music, theater and art an audience experiences, there are countless hours of work and lifetimes of observations that accumulate and build into wonders. Those working days are right now. The art that will emerge in time will surely dazzle, possibly daze, and certainly tell us much about ourselves, our neighbors, and the world we inhabit, each in our own way.

From these eight dancers - Alexandra Hutchinson, Amanda Smith, Daphne Lee, Lindsey Donnell, Anthony Santos, Derek Brockington, Dustin James and Kouadio Davis - in a piece created and produced by Derek Brockington and Alexandra Hutchinson and choreographed by DTH’s resident choreographer, Robert Garland, we get a vision of grace and joy, pride and promise. J.S. Bach’s “Violin Concerto in A minor” plays as the dancers perform a mix of classical and contemporary on the 145th St. subway platform, at City College at 137th St., at Riverbank State Park and in front of the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building. The locations are almost completely empty, a sign of the times, but the performances are rich and full.

Movement is what Dance Theatre of Harlem is all about. It’s a word with many meanings, and all of them pertain. DTH was born during the last century’s civil rights movement. Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, it is present and active in this century. Founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell, NY City Ballet’s first Black principal dancer, the creation of Dance Theatre of Harlem was a response to Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

Mitchell started the school in a converted garage in his hometown, Harlem, leaving the doors open to invite interest in ballet as a way to celebrate African American culture. What started as a dream has become a renowned and beloved international, multi-cultural dance company dedicated to a message, they state, of “empowerment through the arts for all.”

Alicia Keys’ Hit

Delivering that message has proven challenging during the pandemic. “DTH On Demand” keeps the company in touch with audiences via archival performances, conversations with artists, instructional videos for children and adults, and online classes, many of which are free.

To celebrate its 50th anniversary, a virtual 2020 Vision Gala on October 19th at 7 p.m., “WE ARE Dance Theatre of Harlem” includes several newly created works, including one based on Grammy-winning musician Alicia Keys’ recent hit, “Underdog.” Months ago, Keys shared her piece with DTH, and a video of the dance created for it is being premiered. The gala is an annual fundraising event, this time, open to the public. It includes a performance by Keys, talks and tributes, an auction, and naturally, lots of gorgeous dance. It can be viewed for free via Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Facebook and YouTube pages, and it’s followed by a virtual dance party. The audience is invited to contribute if they can.

In the video announcing the gala, dancers perform as texts flash, “We are fierce. We are radical. We are Powerful.” There’s no irony in a piece titled “Underdog” being performed by iconic artists of music and dance. Part of the function of art is to give voice to the lives and experiences of many through the thoughts and actions of individuals. These artists and their talent, vision, work, passion and optimism are part of our way through 2020.

Talk of New York going back to the way it was will take us nowhere. That’s not how time works. It only moves in one direction – forward. Whether on streets and subways or on our screens at home, Dance Theatre of Harlem’s choreographers and dancers are creating art to bring us, with grace and hope, to our future. Their message and their work have never been more relevant.


2020 Vision Gala and “Dancing Through Harlem”: