It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year – American Repertory Ballet’s "Season Premiere"
Fall has always been my favorite time of the year. When I was a kid, I loved fall because it meant my birthday and Halloween were imminent; and OK, I admit that I loved going back to school, too, and all of the excitement that a new school year brings. As an adult, I still love my birthday and Halloween, of course, and though I might dread how school buses affect the timing of my commute, I love seeing everyone gear up for a new school year. Now that I make my living in arts administration, and am totally immersed in the national arts scene, I have one more reason to love fall: it is season opener time. (Yes, I know that there are many summer festivals that have just ended and are not beginning seasons, but don’t rain on my parade, please.)
This week, American Repertory Ballet (ARB) has two reasons to welcome fall: it is opening its season with a series of events and performances at Rider University’s Bart Luedeke Center, and the company is also celebrating five years of artistic leadership from Artistic Director Douglas Martin.
“American Repertory Ballet has made huge strides under Douglas Martin’s artistic vision,” says ARB Executive Director Vanessa Logan. “We are glad to celebrate these five years and the promise of many successful anniversaries to come with this opening week at Rider University.”
If your schedule is anywhere near as crazy as mine, though, your first thought is about what’s happening when, since availability is first and foremost. So I’ll start you off with the basics, before I tempt you to break your schedule with the details.
Wednesday, September 23 5:15 p.m.: On Pointe: “Meet the Dancers”
Thursday, September 24 4:30 p.m.: Open House Dress Rehearsal 6:00 p.m.: State of the Art Address 7:00 p.m.: Post-meeting celebration
Friday, September 25 7:30 p.m.: “Season Premiere”
Saturday, September 26 7:30 p.m.: “Season Premiere”
All events take place in Rider University’s Bart Luedeke Center in Lawrenceville, NJ. “Season Premiere” performance tickets are $20 for adults ($10 for students/seniors), but the other events are free and open to the public. (Note that you must R.S.V.P. for the State of the Art Address. See “The Details” below for, you know, the details.)
The highlights of the week’s events are the two performances titled “Season Premiere” on Friday and Saturday evenings. On the program are three highlights from Douglas Martin’s first two years of leadership:
Choreographed by Douglas Martin himself is the lyrical and poignant “Ephemeral Possessions,” which originally debuted in 2011 and is set to Samuel Barber's “Adagio for Strings;”
Internationally acclaimed choreographer Kirk Peterson's highly technical “GlazunovVariations,” set to sections of Glazunov's music for the classical ballet “Raymonda.” The choreography is based upon the original “Raymonda” choreography by Marcus Petipa;
And ARB Resident Choreographer Mary Barton's imaginative and thrilling “Straight Up With a Twist,” set to music by contemporary folk music composer Kaila Flexer. “Straight Up With a Twist” was last performed on tour at Jacob’s Pillow, the spectacularly beautiful and internationally renowned center for dance history and performance in the Berkshire mountains.
As this lineup shows, one of the exciting things about American Repertory Ballet is the company’s capacity to perform everything from classical to contemporary, from tutus to unitards. If you think ballet is limited to the classics like the Nutcracker’s Sugarplum Fairy, then you’re in for a real treat.
On the other hand, modern ballet doesn’t always pitch out the pointe shoes (though some dancers’ feet might be happier if they did) and tiaras. Plenty of significant ballet today involves the classic vocabulary, just expressed in a modern way – sometimes with pointe shoes, tiaras and tutus, creating a magical world for audiences, and sometimes they are performed in plain leotards without sets, laying bare for the audience the choreography and dancers’ form.
This four-day stretch of season opening celebration events honor the five-year anniversary of Artistic Director Douglas Martin, as well as the relationship the ballet company has with Rider University. While that relationship with Rider stretches back 20 years, it’s only over the last few years that ARB has begun its performance season with a residency at Rider University.
Perhaps you’re an old-fashioned sort, who wants to meet your dancers before you fall in love with their work? ARB gets you. Come to the “Meet the Dancers” edition of On Pointe on Wednesday, September 23 at 5:15 p.m. at Rider University, providing attendees with a unique opportunity to meet the company’s international, professional dancers and to see excerpts of the upcoming performance season.
Want to test the dance waters before buying your ticket? No problem. Hit the Open House Dress Rehearsal this Thursday, September 24 at 4:30 p.m. in the theater at the Bart Luedeke Center at Rider University. If you’re still hungry for more ARB, just scoot over to the fireside lounge right after the dress rehearsal for ARB’s first-ever public meeting, the State of the Art Address. Then celebrate the season opening celebration, post-meeting at 7:00 p.m.
Can’t make it to Lawrenceville this week? Not to worry, because “Season Premiere,” under the title of “A Night of Dance,” is heading to Union County on Friday, October 9 at Union County Performing Arts Center’s Hamilton Stage in Rahway. This performance features the same works, but with a different cast – so if you can catch both performances, you’ll be really lucky to see the same works interpreted by different dancers. And also on October 9 at Hamilton Stage, there will be a School Time Matinee of “Exploring Dance” at 10:30 a.m., featuring abridged versions of works from the “Season Premiere” performances.
Of course, the beauty of fall is that it’s just the start of the performance season. So consider this week just your appetizer for the rest of the ARB season, which includes “The Nutcracker,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a performance at New York City’s Joyce Theater and many other highlights.
“This season we are bringing back some of my favorite works from my first season as Artistic Director,” said Martin. “We are also adding to our roster of repertory one of modern dance pioneer Jose Limon’s signature works and what’s sure to be a stunning new work by our Resident Choreographer Mary Barton, set to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. It’s going to be an exciting year.”
And we can’t wait to see it, Mr. Martin.
American Repertory Ballet presents “Season Premiere” on Friday and Saturday, September 25 and 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Rider University’s Bart Luedeke Center, 2038 Lawrenceville Road in Lawrenceville, NJ. Tickets ($20 for adults and $10 for students/seniors) can be purchased by calling 609.896.7775 or visiting www.rider.edu/events/american-repertory-ballet-rider.
ARB’s other season opening week events include a “Meet the Dancers” edition of On Pointe on September 23 at 5:15 p.m., the Open House Dress Rehearsal on September 24 at 4:30 p.m. and the State of the Art Address on September 24 at 6:00 p.m., followed by a celebration. These events also take place at Rider University’s Bart Luedeke Center.
Q&A with Douglas Martin, Artistic Director of American Repertory Ballet
PKJ: What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment since taking the artistic helm of ARB five years ago?
DM: I love the performances. The great accomplishment is creating art that is performed live on stage. To witness our dancers performing good art and to see them pour their lives and souls into that art on stage and see them succeed. Every moment is ephemeral and also a little part of the future as well.
PKJ: What is your vision for American Repertory Ballet?
DM: My vision is both to preserve the history of the art while building a unique company style and repertory to challenge our dancers and to encourage an atmosphere for the dancers so that they find themselves as artists.
PKJ: What are ARB's strengths and make the company particularly special to New Jersey?
DM: ARB is part of an amazingly vibrant community and that community makes us strong. We are unique in the repertory and style we bring to our stage. We are a true repertory company with an incredible group of artists contributing to the work we produce and we are able to perform that art locally as well as regionally, nationally and internationally.
PKJ: I know that the works on the "Season Premiere" program are highlights from your first two years, but can you tell me more about why they were chosen and why they are highlights?
DM: In performance terms, these works show the range of the company. “Glazunov Variations” is high classicism – beautiful classical technique and strong, confident dancers. “Ephemeral Possessions” shows our neoclassicism: elongated lines, off-balance turns and movement that show classical technique with extended angles to the lines. “Straight Up with a Twist” is Mary Barton's sexy work incorporating strong classicism and extended lines, but with a contemporary movement style, setting the tone for this fabulously fun work.
PKJ: What’s your initial inspiration for your choreography? Would you say it’s the music, the dancers or the steps themselves? Or is it a combination of these?
DM: Every new work is inspired by multiple elements. Mostly it's the music or the idea for a ballet. We listen to music constantly and are often inspired at that moment. Other times you may take on a piece of music like Stravinsky's “Rite of Spring”because you have an idea for the libretto. Still other times you may tackle a full length theme like “Romeo and Juliet” in which a well-known score already exists.In the end, you are working with the dancer and the music and those two elements will dictate a lot of the end result.
PKJ: Which has been most rewarding for you, personally: dancing, choreographing or running ARB?
DM: I love all of the different aspects of my long career. I loved performing and had the great pleasure of dancing many special years with the fabulous Mary Barton. But I love the work and challenges we have now and the process of getting the art on stage is still the same, I'm just in a different role. Choreographing is the closest to performing as you are directly insinuating your art on the stage.
PKJ: What do the coming years hold in store for you and ARB? What kinds of things do you want to celebrate in the 2020 season opener?
DM: My hope to continue to build upon our success. I have worked with a number of our current dancers for many years and I am excited to continue developing my art with these dancers, as well as to have the opportunity to work with new artists that come our way. My great hope is that we will continue to grow and reach a larger audience, and that we can continue to bring great live performances to all audiences. Live performances are unique and an amazing life experience.