Reading this obituary of the brilliant Arthur Mitchell fills me anew with gratitude for my parents who, despite their rather modest backgrounds, exposed me to the New York City Ballet during it's flowering under the direction of George Balanchine in the mid-twentieth century. Later, my parents got season tickets to The Dance Theater of Harlem, the company Mitchell created in 1971. At the time, it was possible for a family of six to see such performances without breaking the bank (though our seats were always in the outermost reaches of the theater).
I saw Arthur Mitchell perform "Slaughter on 10th Avenue" with Suzanne Farrell. With music by Richard Rodgers, it remains one of my favorite ballets and I was thrilled to introduce it to David in 2000 when the NYCB celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Dance Theater of Harlem with a joint program. When making this ballet, Balanchine entrusted Mitchell, who had early training in tap dance, with the choreography for the "Hoofer" role. “O.K., you have 16 bars,” Balanchine supposedly told him. “I’ll be back in an hour, and you have something.”