Tag: New York City Ballet

R.I.P. Dance Legend Arthur Mitchell, 84, Founder of the Dance Theater of Harlem

Arthur Mitchell in 1963. (Credit: Jack Mitchell/Getty Images)

by Jennifer Dunning via nytimes.com

Arthur Mitchell, a charismatic dancer with New York City Ballet in the 1950s and ’60s and the founding director of the groundbreaking Dance Theater of Harlem, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 84. His death, at a hospital, was caused by complications of heart failure, said Juli Mills-Ross, a niece. He lived in Manhattan.

Mr. Mitchell, the first black ballet dancer to achieve international stardom, was one of the most popular dancers with New York City Ballet, where he danced from 1956 to 1968 and displayed a dazzling presence, superlative artistry and powerful sense of self.

That charisma served him well as the director of Dance Theater of Harlem, the nation’s first major black classical company, as it navigated its way through severe financial problems in recent decades and complex aesthetic questions about the relationship of black contemporary dancers to an 18th-century European art form.

Born in Harlem on March 27, 1934, Arthur Adam Mitchell Jr. was one of five children. His father was a building superintendent, and his mother, Willie Mae (Hearns) Mitchell, was a homemaker.

An avid social dancer all his life, Mr. Mitchell had his first exposure to formal training when a junior high school guidance counselor saw him dancing at a class party and suggested that he audition for the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan.

Mr. Mitchell worked so hard there that in stretching he tore his stomach muscles and was hospitalized. But he was soon performing with the school’s modern-dance ensemble and experimenting with his own choreography. He also performed in Europe and the United States with Donald McKayle (who died in April), Louis Johnson, Sophie Maslow and Anna Sokolow, and he played an angel in a 1952 revival of the Virgil Thomson-Gertrude Stein opera “Four Saints in Three Acts” in New York and Paris.

Mr. Mitchell was 18 when he began studying with Mr. Shook, a demanding ballet teacher who encouraged black dancers to train in classical dance. On his graduation from the High School of Performing Arts he was offered a modern-dance scholarship at Bennington College in Vermont and a ballet scholarship at the School of American Ballet in New York. He chose to study ballet, although there were almost no performing outlets for black dancers in the field.

Beneath Mr. Mitchell’s gleaming smile and sunny charm was a tenacity of belief and purpose that could be almost frightening. In Lincoln Kirstein, a founder with Balanchine of the City Ballet school and company, Mr. Mitchell found a similarly stubborn friend. To get into the company’s corps de ballet, Mr. Kirstein told him, he must dance like a principal.

During his student years, Mr. Mitchell performed in modern dance and on Broadway in “House of Flowers,” and he was on tour in Europe with the John Butler Dance Theater when the invitation came to join City Ballet for the 1955-56 season.

When asked in an interview with The New York Times in January what he considered his greatest achievement, he said, “That I actually bucked society, and an art form that was three, four hundred years old, and brought black people into it.”

His dancing in just two roles created for him by New York City Ballet founder and choreographer George Balanchine ensured him a place in American ballet history.

In the first, in “Agon,” a trailblazing masterwork of 20th-century ballet that had its premiere in 1957, Mr. Mitchell embodied the edgy energy of the piece in a difficult, central pas de deux that Balanchine choreographed for him and Diana Adams. In this duet, “Balanchine explored most fully the possibilities of linear design in two extraordinary supple and beautifully trained human bodies,” the dance historian and critic Lillian Moore wrote.

“Can you imagine the audacity to take an African-American and Diana Adams, the essence and purity of Caucasian dance, and to put them together on the stage?” he said. “Everybody was against him. He knew what he was going against, and he said, ‘You know my dear, this has got to be perfect.’ ”

Five years after “Agon,” Balanchine created the role of a lifetime for Mr. Mitchell as the high-flying, hard-dancing, naughty Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” He danced the part, Walter Terry wrote, “as if he were Mercury subjected to a hotfoot.”

Mr. Mitchell would forever be identified with the role.

One of the last ballets Mr. Mitchell performed with City Ballet was Balanchine’s “Requiem Canticles,” a tribute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. created shortly after he was killed in 1968. Profoundly affected by the King assassination, Mr. Mitchell began to work toward establishing a school that would provide the children of Harlem with the kinds of opportunities he had had.

Mr. Mitchell, center, working with members of the Dance Theater of Harlem in 1997. He founded the company in 1969 with the dance teacher Karel Shook, a friend and longtime mentor. (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

He founded the Dance Theater of Harlem the next year with Karel Shook, a friend and longtime mentor. In the early 2000s, the company, along with its dance school, faced mounting debt, and it was forced to go on hiatus in 2004. But it returned to performance in reduced form in 2012 and now tours regularly and performs at City Center. The school today has more than 300 students.

Mr. Mitchell became artistic director emeritus of Dance Theater in 2011.

He returned to the company in August to oversee a production of “Tones II,” a restaging of one of his older ballets. It is to be performed in April, to commemorate Dance Theater’s 50th anniversary.

R.I.P. Albert Evans, Former New York City Ballet Principal Dancer

In this June 20, 2010 photo released by the New York City Ballet, Albert Evans appears during his farewell performance in "The Four Temperaments," in New York. Evans, who was in his late 40s, died at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital on Monday, June 22, 2015, said Rob Daniels, a spokesman for the ballet company. (Paul Kolnik/New York City Ballet via AP)
In this June 20, 2010 photo released by the New York City Ballet, Albert Evans appears during his farewell.

NEW YORK (AP) — Albert Evans, a former New York City Ballet principal dancer and one of the most prominent African-Americans in classical dance, has died at age 46.

Evans died at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital on Monday night “following a short illness,” said Rob Daniels, a spokesman for the ballet company. He did not have further details.

Evans was one of only two African-American principal dancers in New York City Ballet’s 67-year history. The first was Arthur Mitchell, who is now 81.

As a principal, Evans danced a huge variety of roles in the City Ballet repertoire, from classical to modern, from George Balanchine to Jerome Robbins to Christopher Wheeldon. He joined the company in 1988 and quickly rose through the ranks, becoming a soloist in 1991 and a principal in 1995. Evans retired during the spring 2010 season with an emotional farewell performance, and had been serving since then as a ballet master at the company.

“The entire New York City Ballet family is heartbroken by the loss of our beloved friend and colleague Albert Evans,” said Peter Martins, the company’s ballet master in chief, in a statement. “Kind, warm, generous, and always a joy to be with, Albert is quite simply irreplaceable.”

Evans was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and trained there as a youngster. In 1986, he was awarded a full scholarship to the School of American Ballet, NYCB’s official school.

His more prominent roles in Balanchine ballets included the Cavalier in “The Nutcracker” and Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” among many others. He had featured roles in Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia” and “Liturgy.” And he originated roles in a number of works by Martins, including his 1991 “Sleeping Beauty,” in which Evans danced Puss in Boots, and “Romeo + Juliet,” in which he played a commanding Prince of Verona.

Friends and colleagues in the dance world took to social media on Tuesday to praise Evans.  “Goodbye dear Albert, a beautiful soul,” wrote choreographer Alexei Ratmansky on Facebook.

“He gave us all the strength, beauty, joy, laughter, smiles, passion, and inspiration to keep going, to keep pushing onward, to be the best we could be,” wrote principal dancer Sara Mearns on Instagram.

Dancer and rising choreographer Justin Peck, also on Instagram, called Evans “such an incredible, luminous person. Albert always brought warmth, hospitality, enthusiasm, humor to any situation.”

In addition to his dance roles, Evans choreographed several works, including “Haiku,” to music by John Cage, for New York City Ballet’s 2002 Diamond Project, as well as a solo for NYCB principal Peter Boal in 2003, performed at the Joyce Theater.

Evans also appeared in the 2002 “Live From Lincoln Center” broadcast of “New York City Ballet’s Diamond Project: Ten Years of New Choreography.”

article by Jocelyn Noveck via news.yahoo.com

AOL Originals Lines Up Anthony Anderson, Nicole Richie and More for Web Series

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Anthony Anderson in AOL Originals series “Anthony Eats America”

Adweek reports that Web portal AOL has 15 original projects slated to debut this fall, as it attempts to get advertisers to consider its original shows up against networks such as ABC and Fox. Among the shows in the works are Anthony Eats America, a food-centric travelogue starring comedian Anthony Anderson, Candidly Nicolea series built around Nicole Richie’s Twitter account (#candidlynicole), along with Funded, a show that looks at crowdfunding business success stories hosted by  author, entrepreneur and comedian Baratunde Thurston, and My Inka documentary focused on the back stories on sports stars tattoos.

Nicole Richie“The main thing is AOL is positioned to bridge the gap between Web and TV,” Ran Harnevo, Senior Vice President of AOL Video, told Adweek. “We think we can show there is no substantial difference between the two media when it comes to quality and measurement.”

R.I.P. Maria Tallchief, America’s 1st Native-American Prima Ballerina

Maria Tallchief

The New York Times reports today that Maria Tallchief, daughter of an Oklahoma oil family who grew up on an Indian reservation, found her way to New York and became one of the most brilliant American ballerinas of the 20th century, died on Thursday in Chicago.  She was 88.  Her daughter, the poet Elise Paschen, confirmed the death. Ms. Tallchief lived in Chicago.

Ms. Tallchief, a former wife and muse to the choreographer George Balanchine, achieved renown with Balanchine’s City Ballet, dazzling audiences with her speed, energy and fire. Indeed, the part that catapulted her to acclaim, in 1949, was the title role in the version of Stravinsky’s “Firebird,” one of many that Balanchine created for her.  In addition to “Firebird,” Balanchine created many striking roles for her, including those of the Swan Queen in his version of “Swan Lake,” the Sugar Plum Fairy in his version of “The Nutcracker,” Eurydice in “Orpheus” and principal roles in such plotless works as “Sylvia Pas de Deux,” “Allegro Brillante,” “Pas de Dix” and “Scotch Symphony.”

A daughter of an Osage Indian father and a Scottish-Irish mother, Ms. Tallchief left Oklahoma at an early age, but she was long associated with the region nevertheless. She was one of five dancers of Indian heritage, all born in Oklahoma at roughly the same time, who came to be called the Oklahoma Indian ballerinas; the others included her sister, Marjorie Tallchief, as well as Rosella Hightower, Moscelyne Larkin and Yvonne Chouteau.  Growing up at a time when many American dancers adopted Russian stage names, Ms. Tallchief, proud of her Indian heritage, refused to do so, even though friends told her that it would be easy to transform Tallchief into Tallchieva.

 In 2007, PBS aired the documentary, “Maria Tallchief” about this Kennedy Center Honor recipient’s life and work.   To read more about Tallchief, click here.  To watch Tallchief narrate her stunning “Firebird” solo, click below:

article by Jack Anderson via nytimes.com; additional reporting by Lori Lakin Hutcherson