DanceApril 19, 2016


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Yesterday, while we’re driving to the grocery store and listening to the radio, my husband turned to me and said, “You know, I always associate Fleetwood Mac with Atlantic City.”

“Huh?” I say. Admittedly, my musical expertise is in the opera, classical music and musical theater realms, but even so, I’m not aware of a Fleetwood Mac/AC connection. But he tells me that he once saw Fleetwood Mac play in AC in November of 1997 – so although for most people there’s no connection, attending a live performance there has given Mike a strong association.

So when you think of ballet, what comes to mind? New York City, maybe? Boston, Miami, Seattle, Chicago or San Francisco?

How about Atlantic City?

Yup, Atlantic City has a ballet company. And they’re performing three works, comprising the “American Songbook” performances on April 23 and 24 at the Claridge Hotel in Atlantic City. Choreographed by Atlantic City Ballet Founder Phyllis Papa, each one of these works has been performed before, but never before in Atlantic City, making this their Atlantic City premieres.

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But remember when we spoke earlier about connections and connotations? This program is rife with them, especially for music and dance aficionados.

For me, the program title “American Songbook” reminds me of classical American music theater and jazz standards – you know, things like songs written by Cole Porter and sung by Ella Fitzgerald. While you won’t find Cole Porter or Duke Ellington on Atlantic City Ballet’s program, you will find music by John Denver, Aaron Copeland and John Philip Sousa.

First on the program is “Clearwater,” featuring songs by John Denver, including “Calypso,” “Fly Away” and “The Eagle and The Hawk” – all in instrumental versions. Papa’s choreography features three couples, dancing to recognizable songs, loosely telling a story of love and marriage. This is the one piece on the program that doesn’t come with strong dance connotations – I wasn’t aware of any connection between ballet and John Denver in the past and some Googling only produced a few outlying examples.

The next work on the program is “Mountain Legend,” with music by Aaron Copeland – his very famous “Appalachian Spring.” Well, for dance fans, it’s not just Aaron Copeland who made it famous, but Martha Graham, the revolutionary modern dancer and choreographer who commissioned the piece. (Take a look at Graham dancing this work.) But you won’t be watching a modern dance work if you attend Atlantic City Ballet’s performance – it’s all original choreography by Phyllis Papa in the ballet tradition (complete with pointe shoes).

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The final work on the program is “Stars Forever,” featuring music by John Philip Sousa – his “Stars and Stripes Forever.” Now if you’re a former marching band gal like myself, Sousa’s music probably strikes a particular… ahem… note with you. But for dance fans, I bet you immediately think of Balanchine’s “Stars and Stripes.” (What little ballet bunhead didn’t dream of one day dancing the fife/Liberty Bell role when she grew up?)

It takes a certain something (confidence, perhaps?) to present original dance works, choreographed to such iconic pieces of music, especially when they have such strong connotations for dance fans to monumental works in the repertoire. When I spoke with Phyllis Papa about the program, I asked her about it. Papa said she’s strongly drawn to music and is also inspired by what she thinks the audience will relate to. This… ahem… connection to the music and the audience is what inspires her choreography.

So whether you’re drawn to the music itself, the prospect of seeing different choreography to those familiar compositions, or something else, I think going to see Atlantic City Ballet’s “American Songbook” performances is a pretty good gamble.


The Details

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Atlantic City Ballet presents its “American Songbook” program on Saturday, April 23 at 7:00 p.m. and on Sunday, April 24 at 4:00 p.m. The performances take place at The Celebrity Theater in the Claridge Hotel, located at Boardwalk and Park Place in Atlantic City. Tickets are $40 and $50 for adults; $20 for children and students; and seniors receive a 15 percent discount. Tickets may be purchased by calling 609-348-7201 or by going to acballet.org. And you’re a Jersey Arts Member, right? –And really, why wouldn’t you be?!– Then when you buy one ticket to this performance, you’ll get another ticket free by using the code JERSEYARTS when ordering online at acballet.org.

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About Author

Patricia K. Johnson
Patricia K. Johnson

Patricia, Jersey born and bred, is a lifelong arts lover, arts patron, performer and artist. One of the very few people who actually cheers when The Dreaded Opera Category shows up on Jeopardy, Patricia is also an avid Yankee fan (from birth) and is learning to become an Eagles fan (from marriage).