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Bright Lights, Atlantic City: Atlantic City Ballet Takes on Musical Theatre's Greatest Dance Numbers

Bright Lights, Atlantic City: Atlantic City Ballet Takes on Musical Theatre's Greatest Dance Numbers

Caitlyn McElroy | Photo credit Craig Billow at craigbillow.com

Caitlyn McElroy | Photo credit Craig Billow at craigbillow.com

When you hear “dance” and “Atlantic City” in the same sentence, your first instinct isn’t to think of ballet. But Atlantic City Ballet, founded in 1982 by ballerina Phyllis Papa, wants to change that.

Despite its name, for a number of years the ballet company was in residence at places like Atlantic Cape Community College and Richard Stockton College in New Jersey, and the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, Pennsylvania. But earlier this year saw a triumphant return to their namesake city, with a headquarters at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall and performances at the Claridge.

On Saturday and Sunday, August 23 and 24, Atlantic City Ballet performs a brand new work: "Ballet Goes Broadway," choreographed by Papa, at The Celebrity Theater at the Claridge Hotel. And they aren’t kidding about going Broadway – the program features selections from more than a dozen of musical theatre’s most beloved works, including “42nd Street,” “Carnival,” “Cats,” “A Chorus Line,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Flower Drum Song,” “Funny Girl,” “The King and I,” “The Lion King,” “Mame,” “Mary Poppins,” “My Fair Lady,” “South Pacific” and “West Side Story.”

With “Ballet Goes Broadway,” you will really get the best of both worlds: the virtuosic artistry of ballet and Broadway’s most beloved, show-stopping, foot-tapping moments.

This kind of “crossover” dance program is designed to appeal especially to those who might not know much about ballet and who might feel intimidated at the prospect of attending a performance of the more traditional story ballets.

“What we’re doing here,” says Ballet Goes Broadway choreographer and Atlantic City Ballet founder Phyllis Papa, “is taking pieces of the most famous Broadway shows and putting a twist on them.”

There’s another reason for the selection of these particular works – they are Papa’s favorites from when she was a child and her parents took her to see many of them on the Great White Way. “These are all famous numbers to which people already know the music,” Papa says. “For someone who has never seen the ballet before, this is a good way to first experience it.”

Caught Up in the Swing | Photo credit Craig Billow at craigbillow.com

Caught Up in the Swing | Photo credit Craig Billow at craigbillow.com

While you shouldn’t expect singing, like its Broadway counterparts, you will hear live music in this production, says Papa, from their own AC Ballet Ensemble. And don’t think you’ll just be seeing the dancers clad in bare-bones Balanchine-esque black leotards – the dancers in each excerpt will wear costumes suited to the musical’s story. Although not every dancer will be involved in each piece, giving them time to rest, the number of different pieces means a LOT of quick changes, in stage production parlance.

Papa says that she is taking these pieces, retaining the basics of the original stories, and completely re-choreographing them to put ballet into the movement. But the dance numbers aren’t strictly ballet either. The selections incorporate several other styles of dance, including Broadway and tap – a real challenge since many of the company’s 24 members have never tapped before! But her dancers are used to this kind of diversity of movement. Papa says her style of choreography is very wide ranging and frequently incorporates flamenco, jazz, modern, lyrical and ethnic dances in her work, so she deliberately chooses versatile dancers for her company. There is also tremendous diversity in the company itself – the 24 dancers come from eight different countries over three continents.

Papa says that, like many dancers, she already knew much of the original choreography to these musicals. “What I wanted to do is to take what those choreographers did and make it even better, since I have the advantage of true ballet dancers,” Papa says. “I wanted to have even more dancing and make it even harder.”

Kristaps Kikulis | Photo credit Craig Billow at craigbillow.com

Kristaps Kikulis | Photo credit Craig Billow at craigbillow.com

More dancing? Harder dancing? It hardly seems possible. A number of America’s most important ballet choreographers also created the original monumental dances for Broadway, including George Balanchine (“Babes in Arms,” “On Your Toes” and “The Boys from Syracuse”), Agnes de Mille (“Oklahoma!,” “Carousel” and “Brigadoon”) and Jerome Robbins (“On the Town,” “The King and I,” “Peter Pan,” “West Side Story,” “Gypsy” and “Fiddler on the Roof”).

But no matter how grounded their training is in ballet – the linguafranca of dance – most Broadway dancers are not primarily ballet dancers or experts in pointe work. Papa says that having a company of professional ballet dancers to draw upon allows her to play to the technical strengths of the art form.

So there’s virtuosic dance (and plenty of it), some of the best and most well known music ever performed on Broadway – all in one performance here in New Jersey.

What does that mean for audiences? A night of pure, exhilarating entertainment and a chance to see Broadway in a whole new light.

Go ahead – dance the whole way home. Atlantic City won’t judge.

The Details Atlantic City Ballet performs “Ballet Goes Broadway” on Saturday and Sunday, August 23 and 24 at 4:00 p.m. Performances take place at The Celebrity Theater at the Claridge Hotel, located at Park Place and Boardwalk in Atlantic City. Tickets are $35-$55 for adults and $40 for children 12 and under and may be purchased at ticketmaster.com or 800.745.3000.

For more information about Atlantic City Ballet, visit acballet.org or call 609.348.7201.

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