CULTURE

Dance Theater of Harlem on at new Halandri venue

The highly accomplished and vivacious Dance Theater of Harlem comes to the newly established Arts Center of Halandri this week to take part in the complex’s inaugurating festival, in which it is scheduled to appear this Thursday, Friday and Saturday. «The Dance Theater of Harlem was created on the basis of artistic and educational values, of social awareness; the same values as those the new venue was built on,» said Arthur Mitchell, the company’s co-founder and artistic director at a recent press conference. «One of ballet’s most exciting undertakings,» (The New York Times, 1971), the Dance Theater of Harlem was founded in 1969 by Mitchell and Karel Shook. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, Mitchell was inspired to start a school offering children, especially those growing up in his home town, Harlem, the chance to get acquainted with dance and the arts in general. Besides his artistic achievements, Mitchell was the first African-American dancer to become a member of a major dance company. In 1955, Mitchell broke racial barriers by becoming a permanent member of the authoritative New York City Ballet. Breaking barriers has long been the company’s motto as well. Since its establishment, the troupe has developed into a multicultural institution that is not only critically acclaimed for its performances worldwide, but also acts as a center for education. In 1988, the company became the first American ballet company to perform in the former Soviet Union (its appearances were part of the United States/USSR Cultural Exchange Initiative). Following the lift of a 30-year culture ban, the troupe traveled to South Africa in 1992 for a historic six-week tour before the end of apartheid. After President Bill Clinton’s signing of the Permanent Normal Trade Relations for China bill, the company was the first cultural act to perform in Beijing and Shanghai. The troupe is making its brief visit to Athens as a break from its current tour of Britain, the first foreign dance company in the UK in the last 20 years. At the new Halandri venue, Mitchell is replacing a classic piece with a lesser-known one: Originally scheduled as the curtain-raiser in Athens, «Serenade,» (choreographed by great master George Balanchine and based on the music by Tchaikovsky) is being replaced by «Dougla,» a 1974 piece based on music and choreography by Geoffrey Holder. The offspring of Africans (those brought to the Caribbean as slaves) and Indians (brought as low-cost labor following the abolition of slavery), Trinidad’s Dougla people share distinctive customs and traditions. Similarly, in the ballet, Holder has combined African and West Indian dance traditions. The troupe then moves on to «Apollo,» based on the music by Igor Stravinsky and to choreography by Balanchine. The piece was chosen for two reasons: to mark 100 years since the legendary choreographer’s birth on the one hand, and the upcoming Olympic Games on the other. The ballet narrates the birth of Apollo and his subsequent education in poetry, mime and dancing by the muses. A Balanchine masterpiece, the piece marked the first collaboration between the venerable choreographer and the composer. The troupe’s performance will end with «Return,» featuring music by Aretha Franklin and James Brown, and choreography by Robert Garland. Produced for the company’s 30th anniversary, the piece was defined by its creator as «postmodern urban neoclassicism.» «There will be something for everyone; classical, purist and populist,» said Mitchell at the press conference. Being fervent advocates of investing in communities, besides offering their local audience three memorable performances, the artistic director and his company will also interact with local professionals and dance fans through a master class. Arts Center of Halandri, 53 Garittou, tel 210.63.93.341. For information and tickets, call 210.63.93.341 and 210.72.34.567 or log on to www.ticketservices.gr.