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DANCE THEATER OF HARLEM Dance Theater of Harlem has never been just another ballet troupe. It was created, in 1969, as a hopeful reaction to hope-crushing circumstances. The assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was among the spurs to action, but the principal problem in need of addressing was longstanding and continuing: the dearth of opportunities for ballet dancers who were not white. “You can’t do this,” these dancers were told by the world in many ways. Dance Theater of Harlem told them they could, and then proved it to the world.
The survival of this institution for 50 years deserves a big celebration. With the death of its trailblazing founding director, Arthur Mitchell, in September, the anniversary festivities have also become memorials. In recent decades the company has valiantly struggled with diminished funds, and its New York season at City Center (April 10, 12-13) isn’t as grand as one might wish. Such signatures pieces as “Agon,” “Firebird” and “Creole Giselle” return only in excerpts. But it’s appropriate that one of Mr. Mitchell’s works (“Tones”) is being revived, and Robert Garland, the troupe’s underrecognized resident choreographer, is presenting a premiere. However these turn out, the occasion is major. BRIAN SEIBERT
PAM TANOWITZ When Emma Portner, known for her video dances, withdrew from a New York City Ballet commission, the company turned to Pam Tanowitz. The circumstances are hardly ideal, but here’s a one-word reaction: Finally.
Ms. Tanowitz, whose new ballet will be unveiled at the company’s spring gala on May 2, has been making dances since 1992. Celebrated for her ability to mix classical and contemporary vocabulary within a framework of formal structures, she will expand a piece set to Bartok’s String Quartet No. 5 that she created during a choreographic workshop at American Ballet Theater in 2017.
It’s not the prolific Ms. Tanowitz’s only new dance this season: In April, she presents a work at the Martha Graham Dance Company; another commission, from Paul Taylor American Modern Dance, will have its premiere at the Orchestra of St. Luke’s Bach Festival in June, the same month she presents a new work for her company and the City Ballet dancers Sara Mearns and Taylor Stanley at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s River to River Festival.
And on March 22, she will land in Cleveland to stage a site-specific work at Pilgrim Congregational Church for her company along with local dancers. “Recital #1 (five small dances for Cleveland)” is an experiment: She’s looking at ways to reimagine her repertory. GIA KOURLAS