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Get to know Dance Theatre of Harlem's trailblazing founder, then go see the company perform next

The exhibit at "Arthur Mitchell: Harlem's Ballet Trailblazer"

Harlem's legendary Dance Theatre of Harlem spends a lot of time on tour, so if you want to see them perform in New York, now's your chance: The dance troupe will be at City Center for four shows only, from April 4 to 7.

And this year is special: until March 11 you can also go see a great little (free) exhibit about the company's founder called "Arthur Mitchell: Harlem's Ballet Trailblazer" at Columbia University's Wallach Art Gallery.

Mitchell was New York City Ballet's first African-American star–hand-picked by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein long before the civil rights movement kicked into high gear–who went on to found Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1969.

The Dance Theatre of Harlem

The school opened on West 152nd Street not long after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and was meant to provide the same opportunities for the children of Harlem that Mitchell had (he was also from the neighborhood).

Early classes were held in an old garage–there's a photo of it at the show–that was eventually replaced with a modern building dedicated to the company. The DTH ensemble began touring soon after.

Firebird costume at "Arthur Mitchell: Harlem's Ballet Trailblazer"

The exhibit at Columbia is part of the personal archive that Mitchell donated to the university in 2014. The spellbinding video clips of Mitchell's dancing are a highlight, as is the range of beautiful photos and posters from his career and, later, DTH's early years. A ballerina costume from the company's acclaimed production of Firebird provides some actual razzle dazzle.

Once you've been inspired by Mitchell's talent and mind-boggling accomplishments, go see his legacy when DTH performs in midtown next month (tickets start at $35). Pick from three nights of performances or the matinee, which features a kid-friendly meet-the-ballerina event after the final curtain.

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