Virginia Johnson

Virginia Johnson is the current Artistic Director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and has been at the helm of its revival after serving a long and brilliant career as one of its prima ballerinas. Alongside the Theatre’s founder, Arthur Mitchell, she has worked to advance the Dance Theatre of Harlem as an incubator of black ballerinas and dancers worldwide. The company is a crucial link between the past and present of black dance.

From an interview with ( :

When she graduated from the Academy of the Washington School of Ballet, in 1968, she was the only black student. Her teacher and mentor, Mary Day, advised her to look into opportunities in modern dance because it was unlikely – or, to be honest, practically impossible – that any ballet troupe would take her. Johnson’s hometown, Washington D.C., was being torn apart by race riots brought on, in part, by the assassination of Martin Luther King. It was a lot to think about, but she didn’t let it faze her. Johnson went to New York and, almost before she knew it, became a founding member of Arthur Mitchell’s exciting experiment, a ballet company based in Harlem. A place for black American ballet dancers to dance. She immediately became one of its top ballerinas – many would say, its prima ballerina – dancing roles as diverse as Sanguinic in Balanchine’s Agon, Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, Giselle, and the lead in Glen Tetley’s Voluntaries.

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