He quickly rose to the position of principal dancer with New York City Ballet where he electrified audiences with his performances on a broad spectrum of the NYCB repertoire. Mr. Mitchell was equally at home in the neoclassical style of the “Agon” Pas de Deux, as well as in the lighthearted role of Puck in ” A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” two roles choreographed especially for him by the late George Balanchine. His performing career included nightclubs, Broadway, film, and television. He was a popular guest artist in the United States and abroad.
Upon learning of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, Mr. Mitchell determined to do something to provide children in Harlem with the kinds of opportunities which he felt had been given to him. That same summer he began giving classes in a remodeled garage. In 1969, with financial assistance from the Ford Foundation, Mitchell and Karel Shook, his teacher and mentor, founded and saw the formal incorporation of Dance Theatre of Harlem both as a school of the allied arts and as a professional dance company. Having long since expanded its boundaries, Dance Theatre of Harlem has grown into a multicultural institution, comprised of student and dancers from the United States and around the world.
Among the many recognitions earned by Mr. Mitchell are the 1996 John W. Gardner Leadership Award, the National Medal of Arts; the highest honor awarded by the President of the United States in the Arts and Humanities, the coveted MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the Barnard Medal of Distinction from Columbia University and the 1994 Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Mr. Mitchell has also been awarded “Living Landmark” status by the New York Landmark Conservancy. In 1993, Mr. Mitchell became one of the youngest recipients of The Kennedy Center Honor, celebrating “an extraordinary lifetime of contributions to American culture through the performing arts.” That same year, the Honorable David Dinkins presented Mr. Mitchell with the Handel Medallion, New York City’s most prestigious award for artistic contribution. He is a member of the Council of the National Endowment for the Arts; an appointee, by President Bill Clinton, to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships; Honorary Patron to the Market Theatre Foundation in South Africa; former council member of the New York State Council on the Arts; former member of the New York City Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission; and member of the first U.S.I.C.A. Dance Cultural Study Team to the People’s Republic of China in 1980.
He is the recipient of: Actor’s Equity Paul Robeson Award; New York Public Library’s “Lion of the Performing Arts” Award; the Arts and Business Council’s Arnold Gingrich Memorial Award; the American Academy of Achievement’s Golden Paste Award, The Black History Makers Award; Harkness Distinguished Artist in Dance; and North Carolina School of the Arts Lucia Chase Award. He was inducted into the NAACP’s Image Awards of Fame and witnessed the induction of Dance Theatre of Harlem into the Museum of the Kirov Ballet in 1988. Mr. Mitchell has received numerous Honorary Doctorate Degrees from institutions nationwide, including Harvard University, Princeton University, The Juilliard School, Williams College, North Carolina School of the Arts, City College of the City University of New York, and Barnard College.
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