Among the many and various accomplishments that New Jersey can proudly boast is its wealth of professional ballet companies. The N.J. dance scene can, at times, be overshadowed by the amount of dance performed and readily accessible in our neighboring cities, Philadelphia and New York City—but our ballet companies truly shine. From Atlantic City to Jersey City, our state is the home of artistic and virtuosic ballet companies. In the coming weeks, three of these outstanding companies—American Repertory Ballet, Lustig Dance Theatre, and New Jersey Ballet—will be performing in a theater near you. But, don’t be fooled just because they are performing the same genre of dance, namely ballet, not all ballet companies are created equal or strive for the same visions of excellence.
American Repertory Ballet
American Repertory Ballet (ARB), based in New Brunswick, is under the artistic direction of Douglas Martin, former principal dancer with the Joffrey Ballet. Celebrating its 60 year anniversary, the company was founded by Audrey Estey as the Princeton Ballet Society. In 1990, the company was renamed American Repertory Ballet, a name more clearly reflecting its artistic image and status as a nationally recognized ballet company, and in 1995-1996, the Garden State Ballet was merged into the organization.
The professional company is a classical and contemporary ballet company committed to presenting ballets from the 19th and 20th century alongside new and existing works by choreographers from today. The company’s rich history of repertory includes established masterpieces by distinguished American choreographers like George Balanchine, Gerald Arpino, Alvin Ailey, Paul Taylor and Twyla Tharp.
As Martin explains his vision, “Our directive is to be an American Style, contemporary ballet company. My goal is for ARB dancers to possess strong, classical ballet technique with a style and versatility that reflects our American heritage. I have a deep love of both narrative and non-narrative dance, and I strive to produce well-rounded programs that reflect my love of pure dance as well as theater. I challenge the company dancers by choosing works with strong and unique choreographic voices. Working to perfect these diverse styles strengthens their artistry.”
The company is performing “Signature Duets: Dances of Daring and Devotion” on Friday, March 21 and Saturday, March 27 at 7 pm at the Hamilton Stage for the Performing Arts at Union County Arts Center. This evening of duets will feature “Dreams Interrupted,” a world premiere by Trinette Singleton, set to music by Pierre Bohemond; “Fantasy Baroque” by ARB’s Resident Choreographer Mary Barton; and Gerald Arpino’s “Confetti.”
Lustig Dance Theatre
lustigdancetheatre (LDT) was established in 2010 by internationally-recognized choreographer and director, Graham Lustig. Lustig danced with the Dutch National Ballet and the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet before embarking on a freelance choreographic career that has encompassed more than sixty works over four continents. Lustig founded the company to be a vibrant, dynamic organization that awakens the love of dance by performing and educating. Based in New Brunswick, the lustigdancetheatre professional company offers performances of high artistic quality imbued with virtuosity, energy, dynamics, and humanity. A contemporary ballet company, LDT supports a creative environment for artists and choreographers that promotes artistic innovation through the creation of new work.Collaborations with other N.J. artists and organizations is a priority, as well as the consistent use of live music for performances.
During its spring season, LDT will present two new works and five revivals. On Sunday, March 30, at 2 pm, the company can be seen as part of Centenary Stage Company’s Dance Fest. The performance will showcase Lustig’s “Torch,” danced to modern love songs by James Blunt, Amy Winehouse, Regina Spektor, Fiona Apple and Andrew Belle performed live by vocalist Ereni Sevasti and guitarist Ty Tuschen; and Lustig’s “Jangala,” an exciting work which pays homage to Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book.”
On April 5 at 8 pm, the company travels to the Theatre at Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg to perform “Infinitum,” “Fanfare,” and “Simple Gifts.” “Infinitum” is based on the text from the Book of Job, “Parce Mihi Domine,” and is set to the soaring saxophone improvisations of Jan Gabarek. “Fanfare,” inspired by the vibrant melodies of Graham Fitkin, is a dance celebration living up to its title. The evening will also offer a preview of Lustig’s “Simple Gifts” to Aaron Copland’s 1946 composition “Appalachian Spring.”
New Jersey Ballet
For more than half a century, New Jersey Ballet has thrilled audiences from Bergen to Cape May, as well as toured nationally and around the world. With top quality professional ballet, New Jersey Ballet has given adults and children their first introduction to ballet and inspired in many a lifelong love of the arts. Over the years, New Jersey Ballet has brought the magic of dance theatre to students, little children, senior citizens and adults of all ages. During its 26 week season, New Jersey Ballet performs a variety of works from classical, contemporary and jazz ballet at 10 venues throughout the state.
The repertory includes works choreographed by some of the greatest names in the world of dance: Balanchine, deMille, Tudor, Nebrada, North, Pourfarrokh, Taras, Sappington, Renvall, Tomal, Vernon, Vesak, Petipa, Chabukiany, Saint Leon and Bournonville. The company’s artistic advisors include Edward Villella, Eleanor D’Antuono and Leonid Kozlov, who coach the dancers in repertory they themselves danced at New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and the Bolshoi.
New Jersey Ballet will be performing “Ballet on Broadway” at Wilkins Theatre at Kean University on Saturday, March 22 at 8 pm. Included are the spectacular barn-raising from “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and the sultry backstage “Too Darn Hot” scene from “Kiss Me Kate,” both from award-winning choreographer Patti Colombo. Plus the Fosse-inspired audience favorite “March” from James Kinney, who uses Sondheim’s “Another Hundred People” to meet New Yorkers as they stroll through Central Park.
The company will dance a family performance of “Cinderella” at Wilkins Theatre on Sunday, March 23 at 2 pm. This popular children’s ballet includes all the characters you know and love: the short-tempered stepmother, silly stepsisters, a magical Fairy Godmother, a ballroom full of swirling dancers, a handsome prince, and a grandfather clock whose hours come to life as midnight draws near.
New Jersey Ballet presents its annual Gala Performance at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center on April 5 at 7 pm. The performance honors the state’s 350th anniversary, as it celebrates New Jersey music with New Jersey jazz greats Jerome Kern, James P. Johnson, Wayne Shorter, Count Basie, and Christian Mc Bride. The performance will feature new works from Earl Mosley, Matthew Rushing, and Ray Mercer. The company also partners with the future with performances by the New Jersey Youth Symphony and JazzHouse Kids.
Each of the companies also has a strong community outreach program and a comprehensive educational component to instill the love of the art and discipline of ballet in students of all ages. As lustigdancetheatre exclaims, “Awaken Your Love of Dance!” and explore what these dance companies have to offer you and your family. Whether a dance class or pre-performance lecture, the companies are available for you to learn or be informed.
Go see some beautiful and breathtaking ballet performances right here in Jersey!