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Turning Pointe

"It was a splintery wooden floor. We did have barres and no mirrors, and we thought we were in heaven,” recalls China White, of her early ballet training with Dance Theatre of Harlem. Promising new students were permitted to take lessons with the company and White’s aunt had found her a spot in a class. [...]
Laura Dachenbach

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“It was a splintery wooden floor. We did have barres and no mirrors, and we thought we were in heaven,” recalls China White, of her early ballet training with Dance Theatre of Harlem. Promising new students were permitted to take lessons with the company and White’s aunt had found her a spot in a class. “They had this little balcony, and Cicely Tyson and Lena Horne [and] Brock Peters…they were on the board, and often they would sit and watch us.”

Also watching was Arthur Mitchell, who had made his debut with the New York City Ballet as its first African American dancer, working with director/choreographer George Balanchine who controversially paired Mitchell with a white ballerina in the pas de deux of the ballet Agon. After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1969, Mitchell decided to form the Dance Theatre of Harlem as a premiere classical dance school and company for dancers of color in the community where he grew up.

“He wanted to change the lives of the young people in Harlem to give them a better chance to succeed in the world because they’d been written off,” said Virginia Johnson, Artistic Director for the company. Mitchell had taken jobs mopping floors and shining shoes and was for a time involved in street gangs before attending the High School of Performing Arts in New York and being accepted to the School of American Ballet. “And so many young people who came to Dance Theatre of Harlem became doctors and lawyers or professional dancers.”

During one of her class sessions, White remembers Mitchell calling her into the balcony and asking her, “How would you like to work for me and I pay you?” An elated White accepted the offer. “And that was how I got into the company.”

It was a transformation for White, who became a company ballerina and now is the owner and artistic director of Theatre Street Dance Academy and an instructor with the pre-professional dance program at Fort Hayes Metropolitan Education Center. It was also a transformation for ballet.

“[Mitchell] created a place where people of color could challenge themselves in this art form and rise to the highest levels,” said Johnson. “We were part of that generation that moved the vision of what was possible in classical ballet. You saw young people of color dancing classical ballet in colored tights and pointe shoes that matched their skin tone. And you saw what ballet could look like if it was inclusive.”

Making ballet inclusive often means challenging the look of ballet: petite, floaty, and light. When Johnson had the opportunity to dance the coveted lead role in the ballet Giselle, she relied on the exacting technique, discipline, and passion that ballet cultivates.

“I’m five-foot, eight inches,” said Johnson. “I’m not your typical Giselle, the light ethereal-looking person. But Arthur Mitchell believed in me, and gave me the chance to become Giselle. It was very hard, but very wonderful because it was a challenge to make people see something they hadn’t seen before.”

Yet, dancers still combat stereotypes of appearance.

“Commonly a choreographer will ask for the costume to be nude or flesh so that the costume reflects the skin color of the dancer,” said Dustin James, a Dance Theatre of Harlem dancer. “Several times I have been put in costume that reflects someone with a fairer skin complexion than my own.”

As part of its celebration of the Harlem Renaissance, Columbus will host the Dance Theatre of Harlem this month at the Palace Theatre. The event will be even more relevant due to Mitchell’s death in September. White remembers the last visit she had with her friend and mentor this past summer.

“We had the best time ever. Two hours. We were just talking and talking. He was sick, but he was just as feisty as ever,” said White, who is now preparing to step up to “the balcony” and become a Dance Theatre of Harlem board member herself. “[The show] will be our way of celebrating and honoring his life, his legacy and the impact he had on the art of ballet that extends around the world.”

“We were part of that generation that moved the vision of what was possible in classical ballet. You saw young people of color dancing classical ballet in colored tights and pointe shoes that matched their skin tone. And you saw what ballet could look like if it was inclusive.” — Virginia Johnson.

That impact is now carried on through a new generation of dancers. White routinely brings current and past company members to work with her students at Fort Hayes. And the dancers of Dance Theater of Harlem have spread throughout regional companies across the country.

“Being a part of Dance Theatre of Harlem is a truly gratifying experience,” said James, who has now danced with several companies, including BalletMet. “Being able to spread the message of inclusivity through the art form of ballet is a true gift. Every time the company steps on the stage we show the world that anything is possible through hard work and dedication. I feel a real purpose every day I go to work.” •

11.16 @ Palace Theatre (34 W. Broad St.) capa.com

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Arts & Culture

How Bazaar: Popup arts fest shines a light on local creatives

Mike Thomas

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While cultivating a newfound sense of personal fulfillment might be as simple as picking up a paint brush or instrument, earning a living through your art is a more complicated prospect. As longtime friends, collaborators, and Columbus art-scene hustlers Dustin Bennett and Zak Biggard will tell you, making it as an artist sometimes comes down to who you know.

Having met years ago as coworkers at a local printmaking shop, Bennett and Biggard have gone on to individual success with their own creative design firms. For Bennett, part of this work entails curating the art displayed at Clintonville’s Global Gallery, a cafe and art space that is committed to promoting fair trade handcrafted products from around the world.

When an exhibition Bennett was planning for the space fell through, he reached out to Biggard to fill the vacancy with his work. The resulting show was a hit, with Biggard selling several pieces in one of Global Gallery’s most successful exhibitions to date.

Biggard and Bennett outside of Global Gallery (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

His reputation with the venue established, Biggard approached Amy Palmer, Global Gallery’s manager, with an idea for a large-scale show. She gave him the thumbs up, and Biggard again partnered with Bennett to help bring his vision to light. The result is a show spanning three weekends in the month of August that the duo have dubbed Bazaar Ritual.

“The idea was a bazaar, this sort of Middle-Eastern marketplace where you walk in and it’s just a feast for the senses,” says Biggard. “All of these different sights, sounds, smells—everything packed together.”

As mutually beneficial as their collaborations had been, the Bennett and Biggard hope to open the doors of opportunity wide to other artists. Through this new exhibition/festival, the two aim to shed a light on creators who may not know how to navigate the sometimes complicated process of getting work into a conventional art show.

“Most of these people have never been involved in the gallery scene or never been able to show their work off,” Biggard explains. “They are just so excited to be a part of something, and the stuff I’ve been seeing from people, I just can't wait to have everything together in one place.”

When the exhibitors do come together for the popup-style event on August 3rd, 17th, and 31st, they will bring with them works across a diverse range of media.

“We’ve got people who make jewelry, clothing, glass blowers, painters and performance artists,” says Biggard. “It’s really the diversity of the work that’s the theme.”

As diverse as the work on display in the show will be, the exhibitors themselves hail from various disparate walks of life—everyone from nurses to dog walkers, printmakers to salespeople, as Bennett explains. In addition to the work shown during the recurring weekend events, each artist in Bazaar Ritual will have the opportunity to display one piece in Global Gallery throughout the month of August. Artists will keep 100% of the proceeds sold throughout the month and during the weekend events.

https://www.instagram.com/p/By0yi8xhuPE/

Along with providing a platform, the Bennett and Biggard hope that Bazaar Ritual will serve as a networking hub where creatives can meet and form collaborations of their own. Response from artists interested in taking part has already been building organically, with those involved telling their friends, those friends bringing more friends, and so on.

In addition to the prospect of hanging out with artists and perusing the exhibitions, the organizers of Bazaar Ritual have a number of surprises in store for attendees. Food trucks will be on hand, as well as live local music on Global Gallery’s spacious patio.

Though Bennett and Bigard are working diligently to bring this fledgling event to fruition, the two seem calm in the lead up to the show. Their artist-first approach lends a communal feel to the event, with creatives joining forces to put on an organized yet laid-back experience that shirks the corporate mold of some traditional gallery settings.

“We’re trying to do what art is meant to do and bring people together,” says Bennett. “We’re trying to bring together as many friends and strangers as we can—motleys and misfits alike.”

Global Gallery is located at 3535 N High St, in Clintonville. You can visit Bazaar Ritual there from 1:00 PM to 8:00 PM on the 3rd, the 17th, and the 31st of August. For more information, check out @bazaarritual on Instagram.

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Arts & Culture

Arts Fest Preview: Kate Morgan, 2D mixed media artist

614now

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Kate Morgan began developing her ghostly, layered two-dimensional portraits after going back to school at the Columbus College of Art & Design in 2005. She already had some background in visual arts through her work in fashion and commercial photography, so the transition to drawing and painting was organic.

Morgan’s textured collages are inspired by folklore, mythology and a variety of artistic periods — especially Byzantine art. The 2011 Columbus Arts Festival Emerging Artist alum and 2019 exhibiting artist welcomes a wide array of complex themes into her pieces — including symbolic, cultural, historical and spiritual themes — while utilizing layers of vintage paper and original drawings to create visual depth and a sense of mystery.

Her pieces are purposely vague, leaning toward more minimalistic ideas to allow for wider interpretation by audiences. Largely her art depicts the female form, with as many layers and stories to tell as that of every human being. This is done with an eclectic assortment of materials — including sheet music, German Biblical pages, newspaper and maps — to add detail in both a topical and textural sense.

And yet, Morgan still continues to look for a challenge. From venturing away from her familiar blue hues to exploring different mediums like ceramics, her work knows no creative limits.

Morgan has exhibited at the Columbus Arts Festival nearly every year since 2011. She has gone on to win two jurors’ choice awards in the 2D category at the Columbus Arts Festival, as well as sell and have work juried at other major festivals across the country. In Columbus, her work can be seen as part of the Columbus Makes Art and Donatos Pizza collaborative mural “Every Piece Is Important” at the John Glenn Columbus International Airport.

Morgan has a BFA from CCAD and currently works out of her Franklinton studio in Columbus. Experience this stunning work first hand when you visit her at booth M572 on the Main Street Bridge during the Columbus Arts Festival from June 7-9 at the downtown riverfront.

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Arts & Culture

Be Square: Changes coming to arts community at 400 W Rich

Mike Thomas

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If you haven't visited the thriving arts community at 400 West Rich street in awhile, you might be surprised to see how much things have changed. Now, the minds behind the city's hub for the arts are changing things up to better reflect the area's evolution.

400 Square is the new collective moniker for the array of concepts that currently occupy the buildings on the 400 block of Rich street in Franklinton. The rebrand seeks to unify the community of artistic innovators who call the area developed by Urban Smart Growth their creative home.

Promo art for 400 Square by Anthony Damico

Spaces encompassed in the rebrand include Strongwater, The Vanderelli Room, and Chromedge Studios, and of course, the studios at 400 W. Rich. While the name may be changing, the group remains committed to providing and sustaining a thriving hub for creatives through education, resources, and entertainment opportunities in the area.

With the launch of 400 Square, Urban Smart Growth Director of Operations Seth Stout has led his team to develop new offerings for each of the growing spaces. Food and Beverage Director Lauren Conrath and Events Director Molly Blundred have taken the lead with changes to the Strongwater brand, while Community Director Stephanie McGlone and Art Director AJ Vanderelli are facilitating programming for all ages and abilities on the artist side.

Through all of the changes on the way, the staff at 400 Square are committed to bringing the public the same high quality of workshops, events, exhibitions, and more that have always been part of their unique creative community.

Stay tuned for more info—the new 400 Square officially rolls out during the weekend of Columbus Arts Fest 2019, June 7-9.

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