BECKET -- Renewed and revitalized, Dance Theatre of Harlem is on its feet and on the road again -- and Jacob's Pillow has them as the opening attraction of the dance festival's 81st season.
The company is returning June 19 through 23 to the Pillow's Ted Shawn Theatre, where DTH made its official debut as a dance company in 1970.
Led by founding member and former principal dancer Virginia Johnson, DTH will present a range of classic and new work including George Balanchine's "Agon," "The Lark Ascending" by Alvin Ailey, and "Far But Close" by renowned contemporary choreographer John Alleyne.
In other news regarding the 2013 season, the Pillow will present the much-anticipated world premiere of Wendy Whelan's "Restless Creature," Aug. 14-18. This new evening of dance is created and performed by New York City Ballet principal dancer Whelan and four forward-thinking male dancer/choreographers: Kyle Abraham, Joshua Beamish, Brian Brooks, and Alejandro Cerrudo. Whelan, a legendary New York City Ballet principal dancer, will dance with each of the choreographers in four distinct and diverse duets.
"I'm particularly delighted that these two engagements are the first we announce of the 2013 festival," the Pillow's executive and artistic director Ella Baff said in a news release.
"Both began with separate conversations I had a few years ago with Virginia Johnson and Wendy Whelan about how artists and institutions regenerate and experiment.
"Dance Theatre of Harlem is a major ‘welcome back' for us and for audiences who will see where the ‘new' DTH is headed.
"We are also thrilled to present and co-commission the world premiere of Wendy Whelan's ‘Restless Creature.' Wendy is among the most distinguished ballerinas in the world and continues to deliver remarkable performances with New
York City Ballet. She now takes charge with an entire program of her own, collaborating with four very different and much talked about dancer/choreographers in their own right."
Dance Theatre of Harlem was the creation of Arthur Mitchell, who made history in 1955 as the first African-American member of the New York City Ballet. Following Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968, he shifted his focus from his own career to the careers of young dancers of color. After leaving NYCB and founding the Dance Theatre of Harlem School, a professional company was soon established and made its official debut at Jacob's Pillow in 1970. The company returned in 1973 and 1997.
Composed almost entirely of dancers of African descent, DTH rose to ground-breaking prominence and performance level that was ranked with the major ballet companies of the world. After many years of success, DTH went on hiatus in 2004. Now, under the leadership of Johnson, former DTH prima ballerina, and executive director Laveen Naidu, the comopany is back with a range of education, community engagement and audience development activities -- and re-enters touring, the creation of new work, and a home season.
The Dance Theatre of Harlem Ensemble was invited to perform at the 2010 festival in the Doris Duke Theatre. Johnson served as master faculty in The School at Jacob's Pillow that same year and participated in a PillowTalk called "Virginia Johnson Returns." In 2012, a special appearance by Mitchell closed each performance of "The Men Dancers: From the Horse's Mouth," created especially for the Pillow's 80th anniversary season.
Lauded as "America's greatest contemporary ballerina" by Claudia La Rocco of The New York Times, Wendy Whelan has danced with New York City Ballet for more than 25 years. She has mastered repertory that includes beloved classics such as "Swan Lake," Balanchine's neo-classical pieces, and contemporary works by some of the world's mist prominent choreographers. Whelan has also performed as a guest artist with the Royal Ballet and the Mariinsky Ballet, and has toured extensively throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia.
The Pillow's 81st annual season kicks off June 15 with the season opening gala. Whelan is honorary co-chair for the gala and will perform as part of the evening's exclusive performance. Members of Dance Theatre of Harlem will also perform at the gala, and dancers of the ballet program of The School at Jacob's Pillow will present a world premiere created by Helen Pickett, a former member of William Forsythe's Frankfurt Ballet and recently appointed resident choreographer for the Atlanta Ballet.
This major fundraiser also includes dinner, live music and dancing. Additional gala performers will be announced in the coming months. The complete Jacob's Pillow schedule will be announced later this month. Tickets go on sale to members and subscribers beginning Jan. 28. Single tickets go on sale to the public in April 2013. Information is available through the box office at (413) 243-0745 or online at jacobspillow.org.