Guide to Photograph of Arthur Mitchell by Martha Swope C0478
Published by George Mason University Libraries
Arthur Mitchell was a pioneering ballet dancer. Born in 1934, he was the first African American principal dancer in the New York City Ballet (NYCB). Mitchell was also the first internationally famous Black ballet dancer. Born in Harlem, New York, Mitchell spent a difficult childhood working to support his family, when he was eventually accepted into the School of American Ballet in the 1950s - an astounding achievement, particularly considering the blatant racism and prejudice that prevented ballet dancers of color from joining the upper echelons of the art form. At the NYCB, Mitchell was a favored dancer of George Balanchine, who choreographed the pas de deux in "Agon" specifically for him and another white ballet dancer. Mitchell spent thirteen years at the NYCB, performing in all ballets of the company's repertoire.
Perhaps Mitchell's greatest legacy, however, is the founding of Dance Theatre of Harlem. According to the company's website, "Mitchell's impulse to start Dance Theatre of Harlem is said to have been spurred by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968. Working in Brazil on a commission from the American government to assist in the founding of the National Ballet of Brazil, Mitchell decided to return to the US to try to make a difference in his community by teaching ballet classes in his native Harlem. At the height of the civil rights movement, in a graceful moment of artistic resistance, he created a haven for dancers of all colors who craved training, performance experience and an opportunity to excel in the classical ballet world." Dance Theatre of Harlem endures to this day as a respected and ground breaking dance company. Mitchell passed away in 2018.
Martha Swope was one of the most prolific dance photographers of the 20th century. Born in Texas in 1928, she originally aimed to become a professional dancer and enrolled at the School of American Ballet. In 1957 she met Jerome Robbins and they bonded over their mutual interest in photography. This led Robbins to invite Swope to photograph rehearsals for "West Side Story," which cemented Swope's passion for dance photography. Swope photographed hundreds of theatrical productions over her career and was closely linked to many renowned people in the performing arts community, including Robbins and George Balanchine. Being a dancer herself, Swope's photography was known for truly capturing the dancers' movement and spirit. Swope passed away in 2017, leaving a large body of work behind her.
Photograph of Arthur Mitchell dancing in costume with a dance partner by photographer Martha Swope, circa early 1960s. The black and white photograph shows Mitchell dancing a pas de deux with a presumably woman dance partner in a studio. The photograph is signed by Mitchell, and also features Swope's name in the bottom right hand corner. Stamped on the verso is "New York City Ballet" as well as "collection of Terence Murphy[.]" Also written on the verso is "5-24-72 Town Hall[.]"
This is a single item collection.
There are no access restrictions.
There are no other restrictions on personal use. Permission to publish material from the Photograph of Arthur Mitchell by Martha Swope must be obtained from Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.
The Special Collections Research Center holds many other collections and materials pertaining to ballet and dance photography, as well as other performing arts collections that touch on the New York City Ballet.
Columbia University Libraries' Rare Book and Manuscript Library holds the Arthur Mitchell Collection.
The Billy Rose Theatre Division of the New York Public Library holds the Martha Swope photographs, many of which feature Arthur Mitchell.
Mitchell, Arthur, 1934-2018
New York City Ballet
Photograph of Arthur Mitchell by Martha Swope, C0478, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.
Purchased by Steve Gerber from Schubertiade Music on February 18, 2010.
Processing completed by Amanda Brent in April 2021. EAD markup completed by Amanda Brent in April 2021. This item was formerly part of the Performing Arts Manuscript Materials collection, C0215.
Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Arthur Mitchell." Encyclopaedia Britannica, accessed April 20, 2021. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Arthur-Mitchell.
Dunning, Jennifer. "Arthur Mitchell Is Dead at 84; Showed the Way for Black Dancers," September 19, 2018. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/19/obituaries/arthur-mitchell-dead.html.
Johnson, Djassi Da Costa. "Our History." Dance Theatre of Harlem, accessed April 20, 2021. https://www.dancetheatreofharlem.org/our-history/.
"SAB Trailblazer - Arthur Mitchell." School of American Ballet, accessed April 20, 2021. https://sab.org/scenes/sab-trailblazer-arthur-mitchell/.