A Time to Dance: Previewing American Repertory Ballet’s new season

By Linda Holt
   Wanted: Performance partners, no experience necessary. Without leaving your seats, engage with professional dance and have an in-person conversation with the arts. So might a classified ad read for the new season of the American Repertory Ballet (ARB), the Princeton-based professional dance company with an international influence. ARB will present its season premiere program, Sept. 25-26 at Rider University’s Bart Luedeke Student Center.”Dance, this art, is really about participation,” says Douglas Martin, now in his sixth year as artistic director of an organization that includes a professional dance company, a world-class dance school (the Princeton Ballet School), and an educational outreach component (DANCE POWER and On Pointe).
   ”The audience is in fact 50 percent of the performance,” Mr. Martin says. “This is live, exciting art at its best, where the performers draw energy and encouragement from the responses of the audience, while viewers are themselves transported by the creation of living works of art.”
   Martin began dancing with the Princeton group 22 years ago, rising to ballet master, and eventually joining the renowned Joffrey Ballet in New York City. In his early years, Mr. Martin studied with Dmitri Romanoff at the San Jose Ballet School. Romanoff was the “dharma heir” of greats such as Michel Fokine, who choreographed Petrushka for Stravinsky, Léonide Massine, who choreographed the Rite of Spring.<br>    This season Mr. Martin has brought in Sarah Stackhouse, longtime dancer and assistant with José Limón (1908-1972), to stage There is a Time, one of Limón’s most famous choreographies. Stackhouse studied with Limón, who in turn studied with the great Doris Humphrey (1895-1958), providing another example of the importance of lineage and legacy in the creative world. “Our dancers in this major performance are just two dancers away from Doris Humphrey,” Mr. Martin notes. During her three-week residency with ARB, Ms. Stackhouse is coaching today’s ARB dancers to recreate the nuances of Limón’s unique choreography, which was often customized to fit the physical and psychological nature of individual dancers.There is a Time expresses the themes of a section of the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes which begins, “To everything there is a season… A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…”
   ARB will perform this acclaimed modern dance production, rich with moving images of birth, life, death, and renewal, Oct 22-22 as part of the José Limón Festival at the Joyce Theater in New York City. The dancers will repeat the performance April 8 in Princeton’s McCarter Theatre.
   An integral part of Princeton and surrounding communities for 61 years, the American Repertory Ballet is launching its “Season Premiere” program, Sept. 25 and 26 with a fresh program that embraces three forms of dance: classical, neo-classical, and modern.
   ”The three ballets in the Season Premiere are in different styles,” Mr. Martin says during an interview at APB’s studios at the Princeton Shopping Center. “One of the things I did in the Joffrey Ballet was to the show the audience the diversity of the company. It’s quite impressive that we do such varied, diverse repertoire whether it’s classical, 20th century, or very contemporary. Our company prides itself in being able to represent those three styles in a very true fashion. It’s not like we’re a modern company trying to do ballet. We want you to see the ballet and feel like you are seeing a top-notch ballet company, and same for the other styles.”
   The Season Premiere program will feature Mr. Martin’s lyrical choreography, Ephemeral Possessions, set to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. “Dance is ephemeral, fleeting,” Mr. Martin says. “When it is over, all we have are memories.” The opening program also will offer Kirk Peterson’s Glazunov Variations, set to the music of Glazunov for the classical ballet, Raymonda; and ARB Resident Choreographer Mary Barton’s light-hearted Straight Up with a Twist, set to music by contemporary folk music composer Kaila Flexer. “It’s wonderful music,” Mr. Martin says. “Three years ago, she came over and performed it with her band. It has Klezmer, gypsy airs, all sorts of things… lots of fun.”
   ARB will perform the same program 10 days later at the Union County Performing Arts Center’s Hamilton Stage in Rahway. “We’re truly a repertory company, and that’s a dying breed because companies can’t tour anymore,” Mr. Martin says. “The community concert series money (that once sustained these groups) is now gone. Fortunately, our ‘misfortune’ in not having a home theater to live in allows us to perform all over and to offer our ballets in different settings over the years.”
   The ballet most associated with ARB and the Princeton Ballet School is Nutcracker. “We’re talking about a real five-week season of Nutcrackers during November and December,” Mr. Martin says. “It’s such a wonderful family tradition that has been embraced by people of many diverse cultures and religious backgrounds. In fact, it’s so widely loved and part of the winter holidays, many people don’t even realize it’s a ballet, and that’s fine: just enjoy!”
   Choreographed by Mr. Martin, this year’s production also will include the original party scene, choreographed by company founder Audrée Estey. Nutcracker will be offered at McCarter Theatre in Princeton on Nov. 25, at 7 p.m.; Nov. 27, at 2 and 5:30 p.m.; and Nov. 28, at 1 and 4:30 p.m. The company also will offer its first Sensory Friendly performance of Nutcracker for children and adults with special needs on Nov. 22 at 1 p.m., at UCPAC in Newark. Additional ARB performances of Nutcracker will be held in other New Jersey locations between Nov. 21 and Dec. 20, including at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, Dec. 18-20.
   ARB’s ambitious program continues in the New Year with A Midsummer Night’s Dream March 18 and 19 in Branchburg; Spring into Dance, April 1, in Rahway; Masters of Dance and Music, featuring There is a Time choreographed by José Limón, April 8, in McCarter Theatre; and Echoes of Russian Ballet, April 15, in the State Theatre in New Brunswick.
   Concurrent with the professional dance company, the Princeton Ballet School continues to offer classes to children and adults of all ages, “from morning to night,” Mr. Martin says. “Don’t be surprised to hear that a 70-year-old friend is taking classes here, either for enjoyment or to experience the thrill of a walk-on part in one of our productions.” Classes include classical ballet but also modern and contemporary forms, all celebrating the ABS philosophy of art as a face-to-face conversation among people.
   ”Involved audiences are half the equation,” Mr. Martin says. “When we are here, the dancers are simply working and taking direction. But when the audience is present, it’s quite extraordinary. There’s that moment when the audience gasps or breaks into applause: then, there is a communication with the dancers that is pure magic.
   ”Television is fine,” Mr. Martin says, “it will be there. But turn it off. Go out and participate in other people’s lives. Help make this living art happen. It’s about communicating your relationship in person to people. The world is getting so computerized, people think they are communicating on Facebook! You need live conversation. With the performing arts, you know you are alive and living in the moment.”
   Additional opening events include “Meet the Dancers” as part of the On Pointe series, 5:15 p.m. Sept. 23; an Open House Dress Rehearsal, 4:30 p.m. Sept. 24; and the State of the Art Address, 6 p.m. Sept. 24, all at Rider University’s Bart Luedeke Center in Lawrenceville, N.J., free of charge and open to the public.
For more information on the ARB Fall and Winter Season, including Nutcracker ticket information, go to www.ARBallet.org.