Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts Arrives at The Wright Museum

Exhibition and gala fundraiser honor groundbreaking troupe to support museum programming.

DETROIT – “Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts,” a multimedia exhibition replete with a rich and colorful mix of spectacular costumes, stage props, posters, programs, photographs and video recordings chronicling the legacy of the groundbreaking dance company, is on display at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History through December 31. In concert with the exhibit and in celebration of the artistic and social harmony and diversity it represents is a gala fundraiser spearheaded by the City of Detroit’s First Lady, Yvette Bing, taking place Friday, September 9, 2011, at the Museum.

Born out of the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) was founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell and the late Karel Shook as a school that would offer children, especially those in Harlem, the opportunity to study dance and the allied arts. Now in its fourth decade, DTH has grown into a multicultural dance institution and national treasure with an extraordinary legacy of training artists who have set the standard for performing arts, including several native Detroiters.

Naima Mora, a graduate of Cass Technical High School and alumna of Detroit-based Ballet Renaissance, performed with Dance Theatre of Harlem before her career focus turned to modeling, where she went on to become the Cycle 4 winner of “America’s Next Top Model” and Cover Girl model.

“Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts” captures the majesty of the choreography, the beauty of the costuming, the dancers who defied gravity and stereotyping, and Arthur Mitchell’s own wide-ranging accomplishments. Focusing on the discipline of dance, he brought ballet to Harlem and DTH evolved from a school with educational programs and professional training into a world-class touring company as its artists became powerful ambassadors for all of America.

In 2009, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center and Dance Theatre of Harlem exhibited the company’s rare costumes, photos and other memorabilia. The California African American Museum supplemented the exhibit with the staging of costumes and video from four iconic ballets and adding life-sized banners and other imagery to illuminate the 40 years of history during which Dance Theatre of Harlem and Arthur Mitchell have received over 300 official citations for excellence.

Says Laveen Naidu, Executive Director for Dance Theatre of Harlem, “We are so excited (The) Wright Museum is sharing ‘Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts’ with the people of Detroit, who are an amazing part of our legacy.  We hope the DTH story will inspire all who visit and we look forward to returning soon.”

In tandem with the exhibition is a gala fundraiser for the Museum on Friday, September 9, 2011, from 6:30 pm until midnight.  Promising to be a dazzling, one-of-a-kind experience and unforgettable evening of dance, the event will feature a strolling dinner and buffet; live entertainment; exclusive, private tours of the “Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts” exhibit; intimate ensemble performances by Dance Theatre of Harlem including such signature pieces as “New Bach” and “Return;” and the  “Dance the Night Away After Affair.”

 The Gala is the brainchild of Yvette Bing, First Lady of the City of Detroit and member of the Board of Trustees for The Wright Museum, who saw this exhibit as a unique opportunity to raise the profile of the Museum as one of the region’s cultural jewels and broaden its audience.  She’s assembled a powerful host committee of influential women, some newly introduced to the Museum, who are representative of the diversity and idealism inherent in the legacy of Dance Theatre of Harlem. 

 Committee co-chairs include Jo Coleman, Jennifer Fischer, Cynthia Ford, and Kim Reuss; committee members include Betty Brooks, Serena Cockrell, Peggy Daitch, Retha Douglas, Linda Forte, Mary Anne Gargaro, Sharon James, Marion Jones, Florine Mark, Sharon Madison Polk, Vivian Pickard, Sandra E. Pierce, Glenda Price, Suzanne Shank, Dr. Lorna Thomas, and Roberta Hughes Wright, widow of Museum founder Dr. Charles H. Wright.

 “The Wright Museum is truly a gem of our city and a wonderful location for this gala,” says Mrs. Bing.  “I’m honored to host the event and hope that it brings greater awareness to the arts and to the singular vision of Arthur Mitchell.”

 Juanita Moore, president & CEO of The Wright Museum, is equally enthused about the exhibition and the gala.  “We’re excited to host the ‘Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts’ exhibition on its national tour,” says Ms. Moore.  “The gala fundraiser, which promises to be a spectacular, must-attend event, will enable the Museum to provide engaging educational programming and enrichment based upon the legacy of this great dance company.”

 Tickets for the event are $250 each, which includes the Gala and After Affair, or $75 each for the After Affair only.  Additionally, a variety of sponsorship opportunities are available.  Complete information and online purchasing are available at

 The “Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts” exhibition runs through December 31, 2011, and is free with Museum admission, which is $8 for adults (ages 13 – 61), $5 for seniors (ages 62 and over) and youth (ages 3 – 12), and free for Museum members and children under 3.  The Museum is open Tuesday – Saturday, 9 am – 5 pm, and on Sundays from 1 – 5 pm.

 The Exhibition is a project of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dance Theatre of Harlem and the California African American Museum.  The Exhibition was originally developed by The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and Dance Theatre of Harlem, and subsequently expanded and organized for touring in collaboration with the California African American Museum.  “Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts” is sponsored locally by the GM Foundation.

 Founded in 1965 and located at 315 East Warren Avenue in Midtown Detroit’s Cultural Center, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is the world’s largest institution dedicated to the African American experience.  For more information, please visit