The Dance Theatre of Harlem, America's first outstanding classical ballet company of black dancers, started out as a ghetto experiment which quickly reached world-class level. It was created by Arthur Mitchell, a School of American Ballet student who had broken through ballet's color barrier by becoming the first black dancer to join an internationally renowned company, the New York City Ballet. In this special studio production, the Dance Theatre of Harlem performs a selection of its most popular works: choreographer Robert North's "Troy Game," Lester Horton's "The Beloved" and Arthur Mitchell's "John Henry." The pieces are introduced by Arthur Mitchell and Robert North.
The Dance Theatre of Harlem has long since entered the history books as the world's foremost black classical ballet company, founded in 1969 by School of American Ballet graduate Arthur Mitchell. In 1989, RM Arts and Danmarks Radio produced a studio repertoire of four of the company's most popular works, encapsulating the extraordinary mixture of grace and physicality that have captivated audiences globally. Quite possibly, too, they have attracted and inspired a different audience, one for whom the traditional trappings of classical ballet--tutus and tights--hold little appeal.
Take "Troy Game," a short piece for six male dancers who tumble, fight, swagger, jostle, and play in a joyful, gladiatorial celebration of male muscularity. It's ironic, sometimes challenging, and very funny. Or take "John Henry," an interpretation of the life of the legendary factory worker who resisted the increased automation of the steel industry but wore himself out in the process. These are ballets that draw heavily on folklore to create tension that is almost tangible. "Fall River Legend" is a reworking of the Lizzie Borden story (choreography by Agnes de Mille), and "The Beloved" is based on the story of an overzealous minister who throttles his wife over a Bible. It seems invidious to pick out individual artists, but Virginia Johnson as Lizzie and Eddie J. Shellman as John Henry embody the dramatic, character-driven dancing that is the foundation of the Dance Theatre of Harlem's reputation: exhilarating and compelling. --Piers Ford, Amazon.co.uk