The theaters of dance worldwide do not often present the regal talent and images of Black professional ballet dancers.
But on Saturday, the Center for Performing Arts at Prince George’s Community College in Largo did just that, as the Dance Theatre of Harlem, an 18-member, multi-ethnic company of ballet dancers touring nationally and internationally, continued its 50th-anniversary tour with a one-day-only performance.
The collective of highly skilled dancers opened the show with a colorful ensemble of six swaying gracefully across the stage and setting the tone for the acts to follow. The company’s lead choreographers crafted a well-scripted show, incorporating both soft, eloquent routines of classic ballet and closing the show with a few high-energy, sultry sets of dance to the likes of Aretha Franklin and James Brown.
The two-hour show had a heavy African American presence as well, a refreshing visual experience in the arena of classical ballet that does not usually host a large number of Black ballerinas worldwide.
The company likewise showcased a vast range of diversity among its dancers, not only regarding cultural representation but its ratio of male to female members as well.
County resident Cheree Sanders, viewing the dance troupe for the first time, said she came out to enjoy the ballet as well as support the new venue in her community.
“I love the art, and I think they did an excellent job,” she said. “My favorite part was the soulful part, when they did the dances to Aretha Franklin and James Brown. I thought it was an excellent performance.”
The Dance Theatre of Harlem was co-founded by late trailblazer and legendary dancer Arthur Mitchell, who worked to assemble a team and production that could “dance through barriers” (as they call their arts education program) and transform the typical notion of what ballet truly is. The organization stresses that classical ballet belongs to everyone, with no boundary of race or gender.
The company’s next performance will be on Feb. 4 in Kulztown, Pennsylvania, as it continues the anniversary tour throughout April 18.