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Vol. LXV, No. 41
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
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Princeton’s American Repertory Ballet Has a Busy Season Planned for This Year

Anne Levin

At American Repertory Ballet (ARB), performing in theaters is only part of the job. The dancers in this 15-member ensemble company spend as much time demonstrating their art in non-traditional settings as they do in front of the footlights. Leading up to their season opener at Raritan Valley Community College on October 22, they will appear in programs this week at the Princeton Public Library and in a large studio at their headquarters, the Princeton Ballet School.

“Inspiring Choreography” is the title of the program at the Library’s community room Thursday, October 13 at 7 p.m. “Creating Choreography” is the name of the next day’s event, part of the company’s On Pointe series, at the ballet studio in Princeton Shopping Center, at 5:15 p.m. Mary Barton and Matthew Keefe, who have created works for the upcoming theater performances at Raritan, will be on hand to discuss what inspires them and the process that turns that inspiration into art.

The company will also appear in “Performing Choreography,” at the Institute for Advanced Study on Saturday, October 15. This lecture-demonstration is for the Institute and not open to the public. The other two events, which are for the public, are free.

“We like getting visible and getting out into the community,” says Douglas Martin, ARB’s artistic director. “We do our On Pointe series, and that is about educating our public about us. But it’s not always about the company. We have one program late in the season that is about dance in college. And in January, we’ll have Simon Morrison, a professor at Princeton University, talk about Prokofiev’s music for Romeo and Juliet. It’s important to get people to do more than just go to a performance. These are forums, art discussions. I want people to get involved in the arts and there are so many ways to do that. People need to understand what art is in their lives. So it’s not just about us. I think it is really important to educate people in this way.”

ARB has been home to Mr. Martin for the past 18 years. He and his wife, Ms. Barton, were members of The Joffrey Ballet before coming to ARB during a period of generous funding from both the state, corporate, and private funders. Both began teaching soon after they joined the company, and Mr. Martin worked as ballet master for several years. He was passed over for the top job a decade ago when former artistic director Septime Webre departed and Graham Lustig was hired. But when Mr. Lustig left last year to form his own troupe, Mr. Martin stepped into the position.

“We’ve been such an integral part of everything here for such a long time,” he said recently. “I just turned 50, so I’m thinking about things. I do love being the director now. Graham and I were both up for the job 10 years ago, and this time I actually feel ready for the challenges. I’ve pretty much done everything else here on the artistic end. It’s been a pleasant surprise as well as gray in my hair, and I love it.”

Formed as the Princeton Regional Ballet Company by Audree Estey in 1963 and later renamed Princeton Ballet Company, the company name was changed to American Repertory Ballet in 1990 to reflect a more specific artistic mission. In recent years, works by contemporary American choreographers have taken precedence. The program at Raritan on October 22 follows the pattern, with premieres by Ms. Barton (Straight Up With a Twist) and Mr. Keefe (Fantasy for Violin, Piano, and Ballet), and the revival of The Eyes That Gently Touch by choreographer Kirk Peterson. Ms. Barton is now ARB’s ballet master, and Mr. Keefe, a former dancer, is the company’s Operations Manager.

The theater at Raritan Valley Community College in North Branch has become a kind of home to ARB. The company performs there twice a year.

“It’s a wonderful space, and we’ve really developed an audience there,” says Mr. Martin. “It’s nice for the dancers — big enough to feel represented by the audience, but not gigantic so that a small company like us wonders where the audience is. One of our old production staff members is part of theirs now, so that’s great, too.”

Mr. Martin is enthused about his current crop of dancers, bigger by three than last year’s group. Eight of them are new. “We now have nine women and six men, and they’re wonderful,” he said. “Three of our beautiful women dancers left for various reasons — one got a job with the Morphoses company, and another left because her husband got a new job and they had to move. I was sorry to lose them, but that’s the way it is. Dancers have to have a life.”

Tickets for the October 22 performance at Raritan, which starts at 8 p.m., are $25 and $35. Visit americanrepertoryballet.org for information.

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