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Victoria show among the last for Harlem ballet troupe's artistic director

Dance Theatre of Harlem will be in Victoria this weekend for a pair of mixed repertoire performances, which will be among Virginia Johnson’s last prior to her departure July 1.


Where: Royal Theatre, 805 Broughton St.

When: March 24 and March 25 (both at 7:30 p.m.)

Tickets: $79-$119 from the Royal McPherson box office (250-386-6121) or

Virginia Johnson likens what she accomplished during her five decades with Dance Theatre of Harlem to “passing the baton” at a track meet.

“In this relay race of art, you’re trying to move things forward,” she said. “I’ve done my lap, and now I’m passing the baton.”

Johnson has been the artistic director of Dance Theatre of Harlem since 2011, and will step down later this year. Dance Victoria is bringing the company to town this weekend for a pair of mixed repertoire performances, which will be among Johnson’s last prior to her departure July 1.

Exiting couldn’t have been an easy decision for the native of Washington, D.C., given that she was a founding member of Dance Theatre of Harlem and one of its principal ballerinas for 28 years, until her retirement from performance in 1997. But there was no overwhelming sense of regret or sadness involved in her decision, she said. She is working on the transition with incoming artistic director Robert Garland, who is currently travelling with the company and will attend the Dance Victoria performances on Friday and Saturday.

“It’s a very important and happy moment,” Johnson said.

Johnson ran Pointe magazine for a decade before returning to Dance Theatre of Harlem at the behest of Arthur Mitchell, who founded the company in 1969. When he hired her as an executive, Mitchell asked Johnson to re-establish Dance Theatre of Harlem as one of the best performing arts companies in the U.S.

Johnson believes she has done that. “The company is back, and it’s looking wonderful,” she said. “What they need now is new direction and new energy to push them to the next level. So it is with absolutely no hesitation [on my part]. This is the right time.”

The program that will be on stage at the Royal Theatre features four vastly different pieces, including Allegro Brillante, an iconic piece by choreographer George Balanchine from 1956, with music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky; When Love, from choreographer Helen Pickett, which Johnson directed for Dance Theatre of Harlem in 2012 and is set to an aria from Philip Glass; and Blake Works IV: The Barre Project, a collection of pieces by choreographer William Forsythe in collaboration with pioneering electronic artist James Blake.

“One of the things we like is to show how many different things ballet can say and do,” Johnson said, referring to Blake Works IV as “an homage to the ballet barre — that instrument dancers hold onto every single day of their lives. It’s a contemplation of the joy and the challenge of the barre.”

Higher Ground will also be performed. Incoming artistic director Garland created the piece shortly before the pandemic — it was to have its premiere with Dance Theatre of Harlem on March 13, 2020 — so its arrival was delayed for a year. Garland set the choreography to the music of Stevie Wonder, which when combined with the other artists on the program — Tchaikovsky, Blake, and Glass — provides a blend of the contemporary and the classic.

“It’s very much a part of who we are [at Dance Theatre of Harlem],” Johnson said. “People tend to put ballet in a small box, and put it in the past. We really are about making sure people understand that ballet is a language that can express more kind of things than you would expect.”

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