Tag Archives: American Repertory Ballet

Pride and Prejudice review, illustrated

Here is my review of Douglas Martin’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ as published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on April 26, but with the addition of the excellent photos by Leighton Chen.  

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From left: Bingley, Elizabeth, Darcy, Collins, Lady Catherine, Caroline

Jane Austen’s novel “Pride and Prejudice” is set in 1813 Regency England, where passions smolder under the veneer of a determinedly genteel society. As choreographer/librettist Douglas Martin and his team translate that novel, they hit ballet’s sweet spot. Gentility is, after all, basic to classical ballet.

This ground-breaking American Repertory Ballet production, premiered to a packed McCarter Theater on April 21, is a Douglas Martin triumph. No longer do I want to see the movie. Each character portrayed by the dancers is etched in my mind.

Every element of dance theater — character-based movement, mime, juxtapositions, props, exquisitely beautiful designs by A. Christina Gianinni, music played by the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, even a surround-sound score of horses’ hooves and birds singing — helps to tell the story.

With no program synopsis, it helps to know the novel that chronicles the unfolding romance involving the witty and judgmental Elizabeth Bennet and the rich and aloof Fitzwilliam Darcy, though some characters are easy to pick out on stage.

Ballet mistress Mary Barton, wonderful as Elizabeth’s mother, Mrs. Bennet, points to the ring finger of any single man in sight and inserts her dithery head-shaking everywhere she shouldn’t.angry mrs b

Kathleen Moore Tovar, formerly a principal with American Ballet Theater, also shows the young’uns how. As Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine, she cuts a skirt-swishing officious swathe, punctuating her snobbish opinions by up-jerking her knee.

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Aldeir Montero, new to the company, is obviously Bingley, Darcy’s genial friend. With his every lunge and leap, opening himself to the audience, he exudes friendliness, in contrast to Mattia Pallozzi, who plays Darcy.

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from left: Bingham, Elizabeth, Darcy, Collins, Lady Catherine, Caroline 

At the ball, contemptuously looking over his shoulder, Darcy clings to himself, with one Napoleonic arm in front, the other in back.

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Darcy stands at the side. Center: Jane and Bingham. 


Austap Kymko, as the black-clad unctuous clergyman Collins, oozes himself from one hilarious misstep to another

e and collins but smooths out some of the clumsiness after he marries Elizabeth’s dear friend Charlotte (Shaye Firer).

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Austap Kymko with, from left, Charlotte (Shaye Firer) and Elizabeth (Monica Giragosian)

Gentility does not always prevail. When giddy youngest sister Lydia Bennet (Nanako Yamamoto) runs off with handsome seducer Wickham (Jacopo Jannelli) their bawdy sex scene rips off the veil of decorum and suddenly we seem to be looking at contemporary dance.

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Wickham (Jacopo Jannelli) and Lydia Bennet (Nanako Yamamoto)

When Elizabeth (evocatively danced by Monica Giragosian) refuses Collins, the pragmatic Charlotte literally jumps on his back to claim him.

Mime? Throughout, and often extended into dance. When Elizabeth questions Charlotte about marrying Collins, the friends circle and touch their hands to the brows, then extend their arms out straight, question, answer, question, answer.

Juxtapositions enable insights.

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A vision juxtaposition: Elizabeth reads a letter from Darcy about how he paid off Wickham before, and this scene is visioned in the background.

Charlotte, in a not-so-good marriage, parallels the movement of the eldest Bennet sister, Jane (Lily Saito), who has been moping in a house on the other side of the stage, waiting for a suitor who does not arrive.

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Kathleen Moore Tovar, as Lady Catherine, attempts to kick away any attempts to pour her tea.

And an incident with a prop, a teapot, shrinks a storyline when Elizabeth outwits Lady Catherine, who has determined that Elizabeth will not be the one to pour her tea.

Scenic projections and costumes were beyond splendid. One that helped the story line was the headpiece of Caroline Bingley, which made a tall dancer (newcomer Erikka Reenstierna-Cates) an even taller and more formidable opponent to the success of the Bennet women.

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Erikka Reenstierna-Cates as Caroline Bingley, has designs on Darcy (Mattia Pallozzi).

There is much excellent dancing in this 140-minute ballet — lots of women on stage at one time, and many chances for men to do double turns and land on one knee.

Music was by composers that were Austen’s favorites (U.S. 1, April 19). Each worked well for that particular dance and was vibrantly played by the PSO, directed by John Devlin. They did not build to the kind of climax that comes with Tchaikovsky ballets, but at moments of high emotion Martin inserted duets by Schubert or Mendelssohn, played by pianist Jonathan Benjamin with either cellist Michael Katz or violinist Grace Park.

The dramatic climax comes, of course, when Jane and Elizabeth get their men. Jane’s longed-for pas de deux with Bingley is simple joy — quick quivering beats with gentle lifts and expansive arabesques.jane dance caption

Elizabeth, in contrast, has spent most of the evening rejecting Darcy. Conflicted, he rarely offers open gestures and his first proposal is, literally, backhanded. With his back to the audience he twists himself into saying, in tightly gripped movement, that he loves her in spite of himself. She flounces off. Then, when she is devastated by the Wickham scandal, Darcy signals his desire to help with an expressive leg movement — an open rond de jambe — and sets out to fix the situation.

e and himUpon his return, as she stretches arms-wide in longing, he catches her in mid air, and she curls her head on his shoulder in delight. Again, she stretches to the nth, and curls around him. best end.jpg

The once haughty Darcy lies down behind her, his head by her knee, in an act of obeisance, and the audience erupts in applause.

(Addendum: In this video of a rehearsal, the first bit is Elizabeth dancing with the dastardly but charming Wickham. In the second, she dances with Darcy after she loves him. In the fourth scene Caroline obnoxiously separates Elizabeth from Darcy.)


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Time to Remember: Jose Limon

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Limon dancer Sarah Stackhouse, left, setting “There Is a Time” on American Repertory Ballet, August 2015

Some of my most exquisite dance memories came from watching Jose Limon’s company perform in 1960, when I was a college student at the American Dance Festival.Some of my most embarrassing moments came, that summer, when I struggled to participate in Limon’s class.

Both came flooding back last August when I watched a former Limon company member, Sarah Stackhouse, on the first day of her teaching the masterwork “There Is a Time” to the American Repertory Ballet. The technique that looks so easy and natural on her body –I began to feel it in my long-ago bones. I’ve been impatient to see the company perform it tonight (Friday, April 8) at McCarter Theatre (tickets here). Do whatever you can to get there, because this piece, based on Ecclesiastes 3, will touch your heart. Here is a video of excerpts from the piece, as performed by the Limon Dance Company.

The April 8 program, titled Masters of American Dance and Music, features the world premiere of Mary Barton’s A Shepherd Singing (And I Still Heard Nothing) with the music –– Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 – performed live by the Princeton University Orchestra under the direction of Michael Pratt.

ARB is at the State Theater next week, April 15, when the company dances to two iconic Stravinsky scores, Firebird and Rite of Spring, vividly choreographed by Douglas Martin. It’s called Echoes of Russian Ballet.


Dancing the Gamut

RoS Chosen One Small

This post is to recommend seeing American Repertory Ballet at Rider’s Bart Luedeke theater on Saturday, September 21st (tonight, as you receive this). Tickets are $20 ($10 for seniors). We went on Friday. The company is in great shape and the program runs the gamut of emotions from romantic love to joyful camaraderie to tender affection, to despicable, ugly hate. Rarely do ballet dancers get to ‘do nasty’ as here.

The piece was, you might guess, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, choreographed by company director Douglas Martin, who has danced quite a few Rites in his time. In the original Nijinsky version, recreated when Martin was with the Joffrey Ballet, staccato thrusts and poundings build up to the sexual sacrifice of a virgin. Martin’s serious satire was equally full of lust for sex and lust for power, but it was set in an office. Half the women were typists, half were “personal secretaries” verging on geishas, all undulating and preening. Cast as ‘ad men,’ the males mimed every macho cliche, including riding a horse, all pumped up and competing for power. I was tempted to giggle but I graduated from college in 1961 when women were expected to be secretaries not salesmen and it aggravated rather than amused. At the end of that section, in comes the boss from hell, Joshua Kurtzberg. The males kowtow and the female objects are flung around and tossed down.


The Stravinsky score, you may remember, is pound/pound/pound/pound loud/loud/loud/loud, all sharp edges and staccato. Seated typists percuss with their toe shoes. Men jump with two feet. It’s similar to the angst in Nijinsky’s tribal version but — wait — now it’s not them, it’s US. WE are the ones in the competitive workplace, elbowing our way to the top or wishing we had the nerve to do that. We are the ones who say “It’s not enough to succeed, your cohorts have to fail.”

One ad man, Stephen Campanella, gets tossed to the side, and the staccato jubilation of deals made goes on. During the lengthy pianissimo, the choreographer takes up time and adds comic relief having the maintenance guy, Jacopo Jannelli, rearrange the chairs. Then it’s a restart of angst, this time with the “Chosen One,” Shaye Firer, on stage.

rite chosenone_Credit-Leighton_Chen

In the original, she would be a virgin headed for sacrifice. Here she is a rebellious woman turning against type to snatch male power, represented by a man’s jacket. Decide for yourself what the end means. Here are video excerpts.

It was strange to watch Samantha Gullace lead the nasty crew of vamping women, when just 20 minutes ago she had played a luminous Juliet to Edward Urwin’s tender Romeo. Only the pas de deux is on this mixed bill, and I look forward to the full length version on October 11 in New Brunswick, with orchestra.

In between the “hate” and the “love” was a bravura piece of baroque fluff, choreographed to Vivaldi by Martin’s wife and former dance partner, Mary Barton, titled “Five Men and a Concerto.” She challenged them with some very fast classical footwork. Campanella, Cameron Auble-Branigan, Alexander Dutko, Joshua Kurtzberg, and Marc St.Pierre met the challenge with brio. Barton tapped Campanella’s Gene Kelly-like ability to look like an average Joe while doing hard things with his feet, Dutko’s exceptional talent for legato phrasing and St. Pierre’s penchant for teasing humor. A delight.

After the opener, Patrick Corbin’s “Caress,” I found out at intermission why it seemed so “all of a piece.” Set to Schubertian piano music by Kate Jewel, it uses three basic movements from a postmodern technique called Contact Improvisation, in which body contact is the cue for making up movement as you go along.

Without knowing that, this is a charming work, because one senses the spirit of Contact Improv — dancers pay close attention to each other instead of looking in the mirror or playing to the audience. Monica Giragosian and Urwin led Transformation Song, Samantha Gullace did the sharp-edged Storm; Alice Cao and Auble-Branigan were in Meditation, and Karen Leslie Moscato and Mattia Pallozzi ignited each other in Fire. Kurtzberg sinuously caressed the air in Amabile and had an interesting duo with Gullace with their four arms as one bird’s wings. Most memorable was the pair of same-sex duos, Dance with Me. Campanella and Dutko danced downstage left, Firer and Claire van Bever downstage right. first one couple moved, then the other. It answered the question, what does a love duet look like when there are two of each kind. The men were tender but not feminine. The women were female but strong. The piece ended with everyone on stage, in silence, with a last caress.

Please note: This is the new theatre at Rider, NOT the Yvonne Theatre. Above: photos of The Chosen One, in white, staged (credit Kyle Froman), and in performance, middle photo: George Jones. Third photo: Leighton Chen.

Wishing It Were August Again?


Wednesday morning I’m looking forward to hearing from James Steward, the Gee-Whiz-How-Does-He-Do-It director of the Princeton University Art Museum. In his short tenure he has partnered with all kinds of organizations to bring new audiences to one of the best kept secrets on campus. He’s at the Princeton Chamber breakfast ($25 for members at the door).

Thursday I’m going to learn how to wrestle with Google Plus, when NJ CAMA (stands for advertising and marketing etc.) hosts Lynette Young on the university campus. If you have added me to your Google Plus circle, I have not added you. I don’t embrace what I can’t understand.

Friday it’s off to Rider University to see the opening concert of American Repertory Ballet and its gorgeous young dancers (it repeats Saturday). Also on Friday, Philadanco comes to TCNJ. And the next day, Saturday, September 21, dancers dance for world peace at the Princeton YWCA.

What drives all this activity? Volunteers, of course. Volunteers in general, and some specifically, will be honored in a gala, staged by Volunteer Connect, on Wednesday, October 2, at Grounds for Sculpture, as you see at the top of the post. Volunteer Connect helps non-profits get skilled help, and helps professionals develop their skills.

Somewhere in between I’m talking to Folks That Know about technical innovations in Mercer County. I’m writing a preview for the October 4 “Mercer Makes” seminar. That’s only three Fridays away — perhaps pencil it in.

Septembers are always busy, but does this one seem more so?