U welcomes ‘rich history and legacy’ of Dance Theatre of Harlem

Dance Theater of Harlem cast members.–Courtesy of Matthew Murphy. Colby Patterson

Dance Theater of Harlem cast members.–Courtesy of Matthew Murphy.Art is timeless. When barriers get in the way, art breaks them down. This time, it’s the Dance Theatre of Harlem that is knocking out obstacles. In 2004, the company went bankrupt. In 2013, it resurged.

Wanting to keep the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s fire burning, the company’s dancers are on tour. Tonight, this group of artists will bring their talents to Kingsbury Hall at 7:30 p.m.

The Dance Theatre of Harlem’s nine-year gap between performances left a gaping hole in the hopes of many dancers.

“There’s not a lot of companies for African Americans. It left a lot of people without jobs in the company, and it left a loss of opportunity for girls like me growing up,” said current company dancer Stephanie Williams.

Fellow company dancer Da’von Doane is also happy to be part of the reborn company.

“It’s definitely an amazing opportunity to be a part of a company being rebirthed after such a long hiatus. They have such a rich history and legacy, breaking down cultural barriers,” he said.

With the drive to stay successful and on stage, the company follows a rigorous training routine. It holds a morning class on Monday through Friday, followed by five to six hours of rehearsal. Even on tour, the company works hard so it can put on compelling and well-organized showcases.

In fact, the dancers aim to please both new and old fans of the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

“The audiences have been so great and supportive. It’s surprising to me how many people had seen the company before the hiatus, and there are new fans as well,” Williams said.

After their performance tonight, the company will head back to New York City, where it will begin its annual season. While the company’s home is in New York, Williams will experience a different homecoming tonight.

“I was born in Salt Lake City, and I haven’t been back since I was eight. I’m really excited. We’ve been doing a lot of the pieces that will be in Salt Lake City on tour, so we’ll be ready,” she said.

Even though Dance Theatre of Harlem had to start again from scratch, the legacy of the company has not diminished. It was created in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell, the first black principal dancer for the New York City Ballet. The company has featured many productions from the historic choreographer and director of New York City Ballet George Balanchine.

The Dance Theatre of Harlem is synonymous with progress. While its current number of dancers seems a bit small to some, the performer’s impact on the dance community implies anything but that. Their repertoire and impact is vast, and Doane is happy to be a part of that history.

“That’s a legacy,” Doane said. “That’s history to me.”

d.griffin@chronicle.utah.edu