The Virginia Arts Festival celebratory 20th Anniversary Season is underway, with dance playing a starring role in the Festival calendar—but one of the most exciting highlights will be Dance Theatre of Harlem’s performance of the world premiere of a new ballet commissioned by the Festival, and created by DTH Resident Choreographer Robert Garland, May 14 and 15 at Norfolk’s Chrysler Hall.
This extraordinary Festival event will be further distinguished by the fact that the Virginia Symphony Orchestra will provide live music for all but one of the pieces on the program. As ballet lovers know, full orchestral accompaniment of a ballet performance is a rarity in today’s world, and the Festival’s pairing of Dance Theatre of Harlem with the Virginia Symphony provides a full, multisensory experience for the audience.
“The relationship between the Virginia Arts Festival and Dance Theatre of Harlem dates back to the Festival’s earliest days,” says Festival Director Robert W. Cross. “By commissioning this new work, we honor that longstanding partnership, and look to the future of this brilliant company. We’re also very pleased to provide these extraordinary dancers a musical backdrop by the Virginia Symphony; the pairing of live musical performance with dance not only offers a richer experience for the audience, it fulfills the vision and purpose of ballet from its earliest beginnings.”
Dance Theatre of Harlem was founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell, then a dancer with New York City Ballet–the first African- American man to become a principal dancer with a major U. S. ballet company. Mitchell turned his despair at the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. into hope by establishing a school and later a company to bring new opportunities to the young people in the Harlem neighborhood where he grew up.
Titled Light, the Festival-commissioned ballet is a work for 10 dancers, set to Johannes Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme by Haydn.” Garland himself was a principal dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem for many years, and was named its first Resident Choreographer when he retired from the stage. Since then, Garland has created critically acclaimed works for Harlem, New York City Ballet, Britain’s Royal Ballet, Oakland Ballet and others. The program also includes another piece by Garland, Return, set to songs of Aretha Franklin and James Brown; and Christopher Huggins’ In the Mirror of Her Mind.
Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Norfolk engagement will not be a simple matter of presented performances. As part of a multi-year partnership with the Virginia Arts Festival and the City of Norfolk, members of the company will reach into the community, offering once-in-a-lifetime training opportunities for area young people, matinee performances for students, and prompting a dialogue on the importance of dance in African-American history and culture.
Tickets for Virginia Arts Festival 20th Anniversary performances are available online at www.vafest.org, by phone at 757-282-2822, or in person at the Festival Box Office at 440 Bank St., Norfolk. Group tickets (groups of 15 or more) are also available; call 757-282-2819.