Photograph of Arthur Mitchell in Agon

Photograph of Arthur Mitchell in Agon

Arthur Mitchell challenged the idea that black bodies were not suited to classical ballet. He danced with George Balanchine's New York City Ballet in the 1950s and 1960s, the first black dancer to become a leading dancer with a ballet company.

In 1957, Mitchell was not yet a soloist. He also had a foot injury but Balanchine was eager to begin work on his new ballet Agon, saying 'OK, I'll do everything for you on the right foot'. The music too was a problem. The score was a new one by Igor Stravinsky. 'There are parts I don't understand,' the company pianist said. 'That's all right,' replied the composer, 'I don't understand them either'.

Until Agon, Mitchell had been cast without regard for his colour. Now Balanchine used the difference between him and his partner, the fair Diana Adams, so that the placing of a hand or the arms provided a colour structure that became part of the choreography. It was to be one of the greatest pas de deux ever created.