Virginia Johnson's Leadership Era at Dance Theatre of Harlem Comes to an End
Bringing to a close a four decade-long chapter of dance history, Dance Theatre of Harlem Artistic Director Virginia Johnson has announced her retirement from the visionary company, set for the close of the 2022-23 season on June 30, 2023.
Her tenure with this powerful presence in the world of ballet includes twelve years in her current role as Artistic Director, preceded by a staggering 28 years as a company member, highlighted by her distinction as a founding member and as a Principal Dancer.
As Ms. Johnson becomes Artistic Director Emerita, she will be succeeded as Artistic Director by current acclaimed DTH Resident Choreographer and School Director Robert Garland. Mr. Garland will continue in his current roles until he assumes the role of Artistic Director on July 1, 2023, at which time former DTH Principal Dancer Tai Jimenez, who following 12 years dancing with DTH became the first Black ballerina elevated to Principal at Boston Ballet in 2006, will become Director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem School.
Virginia Johnson's Decades Long Impact
Personally selected by legendary Dance Theatre of Harlem co-founder Arthur Mitchell as his successor and as the company’s second-ever Artistic Director in 2009, Johnson was faced with a monumental task upon taking the reins. At the time of her appointment, though the DTH School and Ensemble were still in operation, the professional company had not performed since its disbandment for budgetary reasons in 2004.
Under Johnson’s steadfast guidance, Dance Theatre of Harlem saw its legacy as an inclusive cultural institution reinvigorated, emphasizing the organization’s universal message of empowerment through the arts for all.
She has also championed the artistic voices of female choreographers – particularly women of color – during her tenure, as well as leading the art form in diversity efforts through the co-creation of The Equity Project.
“To say it is in honor to have played a role in carrying forth the powerful vision laid out by Mr. Mitchell is a profound understatement. So much of who I am as an artist, a leader, and a person is intertwined with the history and mission of this organization. As much as I have nurtured young dancers and educated audiences and communities through the rigor and beauty of ballet, I have received back tenfold in experiences I will carry with me forever. Together with a group of passionate and skillful individuals, over the past twelve years, we have achieved the impossible. I am eternally humbled to have led the charge in reestablishing this company’s role as a leader in the world of dance.”
Artistic Director of Dance Theatre of Harlem
Much like Johnson’s appointment to the role of Artistic Director, Garland is the most natural and qualified successor for the position. He was selected by Arthur Mitchell as the company’s first Resident Choreographer and has held numerous titles in his storied career with the organization.
Garland’s work both with Dance Theatre of Harlem and prestigious companies across the U.S. and around the world, has received high praise from critics and audiences. He has more than earned the mantel of Mitchell’s legacy. He is singularly qualified to carry Mr. Mitchell’s vision into the organization’s second half century.
“I look forward to the opportunities and challenges that this new venture within the organization will bring,” remarked Garland. “Through my work as a choreographer and school director, I have seen endless amounts of talent flourish both within and outside the walls of Dance Theatre of Harlem. Leading the charge to further shape the artistic future of this legendary organization gives me a renewed focus to bring our work to communities who need it most.”
Garland’s promotion, and Jimenez’s appointment is a testament to Dance Theatre of Harlem’s commitment to its lineage and legacy, as well as to the organization’s deliberate approach to succession planning that ensures a continuity of leadership and advancement of its strategic vision for a future that expands upon DTH’s values of access, opportunity, and excellence.
“Virginia has been absolutely instrumental in making artistic excellence synonymous with the name Dance Theatre of Harlem once again,” says Board Chairman Ackneil Muldrow III. “Her history with the company as a dancer, combined with her wealth of knowledge of the world of ballet at large, provided her the perfect proportion of expertise and insight to lead the organization from an uncertain professional future to restored worldwide acclaim. Along with the rest of the Board of Directors, staff, and artists, I have no doubt that Robert will continue the masterful trajectory set in motion by Virginia more than a decade ago.”