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Gaillard Center Hosting Southeast Premiere of New Ballet Honoring Pianist & Activist Hazel Scott by Dance Theatre of Harlem



Press Release

Continuing their growing artistic and cultural partnership that elevates overlooked historical figures and issues important to the Charleston community, the Charleston Gaillard Center and the International African American Museum (IAAM) are co-commissioners of the globally acclaimed ballet company, Dance Theatre of Harlem’s (DTH) new Sounds of Hazel for its Southeastern debut this October 20 – 21. The new piece, which showcases a modern interpretation of the classical dance art form in Dance Theatre of Harlem’s signature style, celebrates and honors the life of jazz singer, actress, and activist Hazel Scott a century after her birth. 

In addition to the new ballet to honor Hazel Scott, Dance Theatre of Harlem’s presentation at the Gaillard will feature a lineup of four works all choreographed by women. This arrangement grew out of Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Women Who Move Us initiative that develops and advances classical dance choreographed by women.

This tour also marks the last tour for the company’s artistic director Virginia Johnson as she passes the baton to the company’s resident choreographer Robert Garland. Johnson conceived of the Women Who Move Us initiative in 2015 among her other efforts in reviving the dance group after years of hiatus when she was selected by founder Arthur Mitchell in 2009.

Choreographed by Tiffany Rea-Fisher, the ballet will feature original and reimagined music inspired by the life and times of Scott, by DJ Erica Blunt. Three other ballets, Balamouk, choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, When Love, choreographed by Helen Pickett, and Passage, choreographed by Claudia Schreier, will be performed alongside Sounds of Hazel.  This performance of Passage will mark the debut of newly expanded orchestration by acclaimed composer Jessie Montgomery, performed by the Charleston Symphony Chamber Orchestra.

“As a performance art center that is passionate about supporting boundary-pushing artistry and the growth of new work, we are proud to partner with the soon-to-open International African American Museum to co-commission this piece and welcome back the renowned Dance Theatre of Harlem to our stage,” said Gaillard Center CEO Lissa Frenkel. “This ballet is an important part of the Gaillard Center’s three-year Dance Initiative, in which we champion dance as an art form and aim to continue bringing world renowned artists to Charleston, not only for performances, but for deep engagement with the community through special workshops and activities for all to learn and enjoy.”

Scott was a prominent jazz and classical pianist and singer in the 1930s and 40s, as well as an outspoken critic of racial discrimination and segregation in the music and film industries. She was one of the first performers who refused to play for segregated audiences, and she turned down film roles that would depict her in stereotypical roles, such as a maid. Scott was the first Black American to host her own TV show, The Hazel Scott Show, in 1950.

Similarly, founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook, Dance Theatre of Harlem has established boundary-breaking firsts as the first Black-led ballet company in the United States, growing into a multi-cultural dance institution with an extraordinary legacy of providing opportunities for creative expression and artistic excellence.

Prior to Dance Theatre of Harlem’s performances, The Gaillard will offer an interactive, community workshop that will explore the art form of ballet, its history, and the rigorous training and preparation that goes into a performance. There will also be masterclasses exploring the art of dance, and an opening night discussion panel with Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Artistic Director Virginia Johnson, Frenkel, Dr. Matthews, and Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Executive Director Anna Glass, to discuss the process of commissioning new work, storytelling through dance, and Johnson’s last tour with the company. This program is part of the Gaillard Center’s Dance Initiative, started in July 2021, which began as a way to bring nationally and internationally renowned dancers to Charleston and the Lowcountry, and provide unique opportunities for the community to engage with artists, choreographers, and artistic directors outside of the performances. The International African American Museum has also co-commissioned this piece to lead their countdown in their campaign ahead of their official opening in January 2023.

“We’re thrilled to once again partner with the Gaillard Center for an event that will introduce audiences to the iconic Hazel Scott through art, expanding upon our shared goal of bridging arts and activism to connect and engage the larger community. As the kickoff event on our road to opening, we look forward to continuing this partnership and offering more public events ahead of our formal opening in January of next year,” said IAAM CEO Dr. Tonya Matthews.

This presentation of Sounds of Hazel builds upon the Gaillard Center and IAAM’s strong partnership in establishing a corridor of culture in the heart of Charleston and bringing the community together to learn and engage with historical figures and critical issues creatively through the performing arts. In July, the organizations came together to honor freedom fighter Denmark Vesey with the Denmark Vesey Bicentenary, a weekend-long commemoration of events that included comedy, local musical performances, and a panel discussion on his legacy and race relations in America.


Dance Theatre of Harlem with Charleston Symphony Chamber Orchestra
Thursday and Friday October 20 & 21, 7:30 pm

Works Performed:

Choreography: Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
Music: Les Yeux Noirs

Balamouk translates as ‘house of the insane’ in Romanian, and comes from the 2002 album of the same name by the French band Les Yeux Noirs. In a colorful ensemble, this piece embodies motion with an abundance of jubilance and freedom.

When Love
Choreography: Helen Pickett
Music: Philip Glass (from Einstein on the Beach)

“Insistent time maps our days. But, when we are in love we surrender to unbridled time. What we share together during this span seems “out of time.” And then, too suddenly, time shifts into focus again. An imprint of what we shared lingers, and traces of remembrances float into view. Yes, we crawl, walk, run, and love in time. But in these brief, wondrous periods we experience timeless love, and we dance our being.”   – Helen Pickett

Choreography by Claudia Schreier
Original Score by Jessie Montgomery
Featuring live music performed by Charleston Symphony Chamber Orchestra

Passage offers a moving reflection on the fortitude of the human spirit, created in recognition of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans to Virginia in 1619.

Sounds of Hazel
Choreography by Tiffany Rea-Fisher
Original Composition and Music Arrangement by Erica Blunt

New Commission / Premiere Performance

Marking the centennial of her birth, this new ballet for Dance Theatre of Harlem celebrates the life of classical and jazz pianist and popular entertainer Hazel Scott. Despite her rise to international prominence as a top recording artist, star of stage and screen, and civil rights activist, Scott lacks the name recognition of other iconic performers of her era. This new commission serves to shine a spotlight on this important African American figure and her trailblazing journey.

Sounds of Hazel is co-commissioned by Charleston Gaillard Center and the International African American Museum, Music Worcester, Seattle Theatre Group, and Washington Performing Arts, with residency support from Chautauqua Institution, and the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College.

This work is made possible by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project, with lead funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Sounds of Hazel, Passage, When Love, and Balamouk are projects of Women Who Move Us, an initiative conceived by DTH Artistic Director Virginia Johnson and launched by Dance Theatre of Harlem in 2015. WWMU provides a platform for developing and advancing classical dance by female choreographers, particularly women of color.

Inside Ballet with Dance Theatre of Harlem
Wednesday October 19, 2022, 11 am
All Ages, Free

As part of the Gaillard’s ongoing community engagement initiative that connects audiences with artists, this informal performance provides an inside look at the art of classical ballet. From the training and preparation of a dance artist through the elements of choreography and stage craft, the viewer is given an intimate look at the power of this art form. Following a brief history of ballet and background on Dance Theatre of Harlem, the performance begins with exercises at the barre and the reasoning behind them before quickly moving on to jumping, partnering, and lifts. Similarities between ballet dance artists and professional athletes are brought to light. Finally, to demonstrate the expressive power of ballet, excerpts from different styles of ballet are presented. Audiences are engaged with a Q&A segment or onstage interaction where possible. This lecture demonstration will also include the Gaillard Center and IAAM newly commissioned work Sounds of Hazel.

Support for this program is made possible by generous donors who have committed time and resources to the Charleston Gaillard Center’s Dance Initiative.

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