Arthur Mitchell recalls starting the Dance Theatre of Harlem
That the annual APAP (Association of Performing Arts Professionals) Awards Ceremony and Luncheon took place yesterday on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was not lost on honorees, presenters or APAP president/CEO Mario Garcia Durham.
In his opening remarks, Durham acknowledged the importance of the day, and noted that APAP’s name change last year from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters to the Association of Performing Arts Professionals reflected the organization’s goal of being “even more inclusive” in championing the performing arts in the U.S. and around the world.
Ahmed “Knowmadic” Ali, the award-winning Somali-born spoken word poet, entertainer and educator who is Edmonton, Canada's current poet laureate, was more direct in his “Creative Moment” performance preceding Durham.
After Instagramming a cellphone photo of the New York Hilton Midtown’s Grand Ballroom attendees to his family “so they’ll know what I do,” Ali recited a poem built on King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and incorporating King’s focus on freedom and equality, culminating in Ali’a request for everyone to join him after the luncheon at a demonstration nearby at Times Square “to let those who deliver hate know we do not stand for injustice and discrimination, and stand as one common family—the human race.”
The William Dawson Award for Programmatic Excellence and Sustained Achievement in Programming went to North American global music platform globalFEST. After Durham lauded it for having “changed the landscape of the music we present,” Bill Bragin, who accepted the award with his fellow globalFEST co-dierctors Isabel Soffer and Shanta Thake, also invoked King’s famous speech.
“We have a dream,” Bragin said, their dream being “to not have to make a case” for bringing “unique [music] perspectives and cultural histories into the room”—as globalFEST has done since 2003—and to celebrate world music as “a source of strength and collective growth.” Thake in turn declared that 15 years later, “borders are now wide open and xenophobia is over!”
After the laughter subsided, she seriously suggested that now is a time “to dream in a new way.”
Accepting the Sidney R. Yates Award for Outstanding Advocacy on Behalf of the Performing Arts, Carlton Turner, executive director of the southern regional arts service organization Alternate ROOTS, said that King’s legacy “is more important today than ever.”
Performing arts professionals’ work, Turner said, “is meant to inspire curiosity and risk-taking,” and eradicate all forms of intolerance while “actively shaping the future every day.”
“We are the caretakers of the dream,” said Turner, adding that the talent to effect change is not in question, but that the will is.
Dreaming was on the Award of Merit for Achievement in Performing Arts recipient Arthur Mitchell’s mind as well. Now 83, the legendary New York City Ballet dancer--the first African-American principal dancer in a major American ballet company, and artistic director, choreographer, educator, and co-founder of Dance Theatre of Harlem--said that arts spark the imagination and provide the opportunity to dream and hope—hope being what people need right now.
Mitchell acknowledged the success of Misty Copeland in becoming the first African-American woman to be named principal dancer in American Ballet Theatre’s history, but noted that there are many more talented dancers of color worthy of similar breakthrough.
Repeating the advice he gives young people, he said, “Never, ever let anyone tell you you can’t do something. Smile, be nice, but go ahead and do it.”
As for his use of a cane, Mitchell said not to let it fool anyone, that he’d had a hip replacement and was looking forward to returning to APAP next year to audition with his junior company in getting jobs.
Receiving the NAPAMA (North American Performing Arts Managers and Agents) Award for Excellence in Presenting, Orpheum Theatre Group president/CEO Brett Batterson noted that his group’s Memphis headquarters is close to the Lorraine Motel, site of King’s assassination and now home of the National Civil Rights Museum. Without identifying the president by name, he did allude to his latest racial outrage.
“I hope everyone in this room is looking for a Haitian singer,” said Batterson.
Also receiving awards were PMG Arts Management president/CEO Pamela Green (the NAPAMA Liz Silverstein Award for Excellence as an Agent/Manager) and MAPP International Productions’ Ann Rosenthal and Cathy Zimmerman (APAP’s Fan Taylor Distinguished Service Award for Exemplary Service to the Field of Professional Presenting).