Brooklyn’s Color Pointes Festival Spotlights Black Ballet Choreographers

June 21, 2024

As Brooklyn’s Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center gears up for its annual dance season, called Color Pointes, it will be celebrating a bit differently this year. The festival, which runs June 21–23 and spotlights choreographers of color, usually presents a range of dance styles. But this season, for the first time in 48 years, it will consist entirely of ballets.

THPAC executive chairman Alex Smith Jr. explains that this year’s season had a muse, in a manner of speaking: former Dance Theatre of Harlem artist Dylan Santos, who created a work for the 2022 dance season. “I was inspired to create this all-ballet program two years ago when Dylan put together a piece using mostly dancers from DTH,” says Smith. “We’ve had classical ballet and modern ballet [on the programs] before, but never a whole season of it. I thought, It’s time.”

THPAC has long been one of the pioneer training and performing grounds for Blacks in dance. Artists such as Kyle Abraham, Camille A. Brown, Chuck Davis, Dwight Rhoden, and many others all passed through its doors on their way to having an immense impact on the dance world. According to its website, THPAC is New York City’s oldest arts-presenting center with the mission of presenting and preserving the work of artists of color.

Smith shares that the history of Blacks in ballet, along with recent developments in the dance world, further convinced him to present an all-ballet program. “As a producer and presenter I felt this was the perfect time, given that Black ballet has come to prominence in the past few years, especially with Misty Copeland and a few others,” says Smith. “I am most encouraged about how Black ballet dancers have come more to the forefront and their voices being heard more in small and large ways now. So I said, Let’s lean into it and put it forth.”

Featured this season will be works by freelance dancer Cortney Taylor Key;  former DTH artist Christopher Charles McDaniel, now on permanent faculty at the School of American Ballet; Ted Thomas and Frances Ortiz, co-founders of Thomas/Ortiz Dance; Roger C. Jeffrey (Metropolitan Opera Ballet, White Oak Dance Project); Jason Herbert, of Forces of Nature Dance Theater; and THPAC artistic director Walter Rutledge, who will be reviving one of his works, In Black and White. “It will be a duo to one of the speeches of Malcolm X,” says Smith. “It will be very special.” He adds that McDaniel’s piece, De Deux, is set to the music of little-known 18th-century Afro-French musician and composer Chevalier de Saint-Georges, while Key’s work, In the Still of the Evening, charts a “poignant, tender” romance between two women.

THPAC can be considered the little dance organization that could. It’s named for Thelma Hill, who passed away in 1977. Trained at the Metropolitan Opera School of Ballet, Hill was a founding member of Alvin Ailey’s first company who later established an influential teaching career, progressing the Horton technique.

Smith notes that he was a graphic designer for the arts center in 1995 when its then executive director, Melvin C. Davis, died unexpectedly. THPAC almost closed its doors permanently, but, Smith explains, he took on the role of executive chairman and, with then-artistic director Marshall Swiney, helped keep them open. “The short version is that I went from graphic artist to executive chairman. Now there’s a whole lotta drama in between, but that’s the short version!” It was trial by fire, but Smith and THPAC have emerged victorious. “I need people to know this: We have never missed a season. Never in 48 years.”

Color Pointes runs June 21–23 at The Mark O’Donnell Theater in Brooklyn, New York.