Jump to content
This Site Uses Cookies. If You Want to Disable Cookies, Please See Your Browser Documentation. ×

Arthur Mitchell Archives to Columbia U

Recommended Posts

Wow, not to Lincoln Center. That's interesting.

"There is also footage from a Leon Bibb television show from 1969 when Dance Theater — formed after the death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — was just three months old."

This sounds fabulous!

Link to comment

My first reaction was: why not the Dance Collection at Lincoln Center? But, of course, Columbia is the right place, where dance students in Harlem will have easy access and see Mitchell's legacy as a special one.

I especially appreciated Mitchell's quote in that article:

The archives are as much about culture as they are a social history. Mr. Mitchell was the first black principal dancer at New York City Ballet, where George Balanchine, in 1957, choreographed “Agon,” a ballet featuring a pas de deux with Mr. Mitchell and Diana Adams. “This is before racial equality,” Mr. Mitchell said. “The fact that Mr. Balanchine took upon himself to put me with a Caucasian ballerina and to do a wonderful pas de deux was unheard of.”

I sometimes hear Agon called Balanchine's "Sputnik" ballet. I have long called it his "Brown v. Board of Education" ballet. This is yet another wonderful example of Balanchine's efforts to address racial inequality in this country. This was only a decade after Truman desegregated the military and Jackie Robinson broke that color barrier. Ugly Jim Crowe segregation was still rampant in much of this country. (Please watch the film "42" to see how bad it was in that era.) Casting a black man with a white woman was daring in 1957 and Balanchine's legacy is brighter for his courage in doing that.

Link to comment

I can't seem to find this back with Google, but I recently read a fascinating story that Balanchine had been invited to bring NYCB to a festival in North Carolina for a week. From the NYCB site, it appears that was in 1961, three years before passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 . The festival director asked Balanchine to please leave Mitchell in New York, as his audiences wouldn't accept a black dancer. Balanchine said: everybody comes or nobody comes. The festival director relented and Balanchine not only brought Mitchell along, but had him perform at every performance. So there! (I'll try to find the source back on this.)

Link to comment

At least from Wikipedia, Mitchell joined the company in 1955 in Western Symphony, and then did several other ballets. But that central PdD in Agon is so suggestive and intimate, you can imagine the reaction of audiences in that day and age. He could not perform it for their televised performances until 1965, as southern stations would refuse to carry it.

Link to comment

This large (200 box) collection will be a major cultural resource. It makes sense that it reside in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia, where materials from the Dance Theater of Harlem are housed. The press release did not state whether the collection was donated or whether Columbia purchased it. The Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia has purchased many important collections in all fields over the years and has one of the finest manuscript collections in academia. As an acquisitions editor I had the privilege of working with the staff there on a few collections that the publishing company I worked for microfilmed for preservation and planned to digitize, including the Alexander Gumby Collection of African-American culture. I wonder whether the $800,000 grant to process and catalog the collection will include digitization. That, in my opinion, should be the ultimate goal, so that researchers do not have to travel to the campus to research the materials. If properly done, the entire collection would then be searchable, making academic research easy. Other major universities, Harvard in particular, have set as their goal digitizing their rare book and manuscript collections and making them available to off-site researchers. Imagine being able to see the rare dance footage in the Mitchell collection on your computer or iPad (no YouTube necessary). A very exciting development!

Link to comment
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...