Douglas Martin Opens School With Former Ballet Colleagues
NEW BALLET STUDIO: Some of the area’s best-known ballet teachers are joining forces at the Martin Center for Dance, set to open in January at a 5,000-square-foot space on Princess Road. From left are Mary Barton, Maria Youskevitch, Mary Pat Robertson, and Kirk Peterson. Douglas Martin is seated in front.
By Anne Levin
Last July, longtime American Repertory Ballet (ARB) Artistic Director Douglas Martin was unexpectedly relieved of his duties at the company and its affiliated Princeton Ballet School. After 25 years with the organization — first as a dancer, then as a director — Martin and his wife Mary Barton, also a former dancer, choreographer, and popular teacher, found themselves without jobs.
Shocked at first, the couple have decidedly moved on. Early next year, they will open the Martin Center for Dance on Princess Road in Lawrenceville, joined by fellow former ARB and Princeton Ballet School colleagues Mary Pat Robertson, Maria Youskevitch, Kirk Peterson, and Erika Mero. Sample classes will begin in January, after a soft opening later this month. A schedule of 50 classes — ballet for all ages, contemporary dance (including a class for those aged 50 and up), and more, will be available.
Martin admits to a period of recovery from the shock of being dismissed, but he prefers to focus on the future instead of the past. “I just love to work, I love to dance, and I love ballet,” he said. “I am actually quite happy and at peace after leaving ARB [the company is currently led by Julie Diana Hench]. I did experience every portion of the business before I became director, and that was really helpful in getting a handle on what is needed to make a success.”
The stress of years directing the dancers, planning repertory, and dealing with the board of trustees was overwhelming at times. “I missed weddings and funerals. It became a 24-7 job. It was one of those things where you’re just burying yourself in the work,” Martin said. “I just put my head down and did it. I put everything into doing it. Fortunately, I have a wonderful and very understanding wife who supported me all the way.”
It took Martin about a week to decide that opening his own business was the way to go. “I thought, ‘why work for other people?’ I started to get excited about it,” he said. “I asked Mary what she thought and expected her to waffle back and forth, but she was thrilled and all in. It seems to be what we both want to do at this point. We love the community, we have lived in Lawrenceville for 25 years. Why not?”
Martin contacted Robertson, who was just back from a year of teaching and dancing in London during her husband’s sabbatical, and asked her if she’d like to join them. Robertson was the director of Princeton Ballet School for three decades before leaving in 2016. She and Martin had created ARB’s post-high school trainee program through partnerships with Italian conservatories.
“Mary Pat was definitely interested, and so were Maria and Kirk,” Martin said. “So we have this great group right from the beginning.”
Robertson said she was “thrilled and delighted” to be working with Martin and Barton again. “We have always meshed so well as a team,” she said. “Our ways of teaching and goals for our students are very similar. One of my favorite things to do is devise syllabi and lessons, and it is so exciting to be in on the planning process for a new series of classes.”
Martin and Barton moved to New Jersey in 1995 after dancing with the Joffrey Ballet in New York. Together at ARB, they danced the lead roles in Romeo and Juliet, Our Town, and many other ballets. They also joined the faculty of the Princeton Ballet School. Martin became artistic director of ARB in 2010. During his tenure, he choreographed Pride and Prejudice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a new Nutcracker, and other works. For her part, Barton has choreographed over 40 ballets and served on the dance faculties of Rider and Princeton universities.
The new space will include a studio for younger dancers, and the Warehouse Studio, a much larger area for more advanced classes and rehearsals. It will also serve as a black box for performances. “It’s perfect,” said Martin. “There are no pillars or obstacles. There is plenty of area for stretching and working out.”
Five artists have been lined up to exhibit their work in the studio. “On Friday evenings once a month, we will have arts evenings where people can come in, talk to the artists in crafts, photography, jewelry, and more, and the art will be on display throughout the studio,” Martin said. “Eventually, we want to have a lecture series. We’re promoting the Warehouse Studio as a fun space.”
Former students have been reaching out, and Martin has launched a Facebook page. Sample classes will begin December 16. “Between Mary, Mary Pat, Kirk, Maria, and me, we have 230 years of experience between us,” Martin said. “This is a team that has done a lot in the community. We want to bring our love of dance, and the joy of ballet, to our students.”
Visit www.MartinBartonArts.com or call (609) 937-8878 for information.