Tag Archives: Janell Byrne

‘She can make you a dancer…

. . . even if you never danced before. ‘

That’s a quote from the “Rate my professor’ page for Janell Byrne, who quietly retires as director of Mercer Dance Ensemble after, by my count, 36 years at Mer2016 5 toxiccer County Community College. (Her 30th anniversary concert was in 2010).

I’ve attended almost all of these concerts and this stands top of the list. Perhaps I’ll have time to explain why later, but I’m sending this out now because the final performance is today, Sunday, May 22 at 2 p.m. at Kelsey Theatre.

Here is the list of MCCC dancers: Amy Annucci of Ewing, Kayla Johnson of Wrightstown, Caitlin Kazanski of Robbinsville, Diego Montealegre of Lawrence, Terrell Moody of East Windsor, Sabrina Rahman of Lawrenceville, Brianna Rapp of East Windsor, Victoria Smalls of Hamilton Township, and Kourtney Tremaine of Trenton. Alumni and community dancers include Rebecca Brodowski, Nicole Colossi, Maleek Colvin, Jennifer Gladney, Delany Hoffman, Maria Laurenti, Stephanie Maher, Danielle Marchant, Ashley Miller and Taylor Miler.

Few choreographers have had Byrne’s opportunity — and burden — to produce, every year, handfuls of imaginative works on dancers of various body types and abilities. I love to see how she does it, how she makes dancers out of people who never danced before.



Three decades of dance: Mary Pat Robertson

mary patAfter 35 years at Princeton Ballet School, Mary Pat Robertson has retired. I’m very sad for the dance community but glad for her to have a less compressed schedule

In a comprehensive article by my colleague Anne Levin at Town Topics, Robertson says — and I know this to be true about her — that she loves coaching young dancers and mentions two of her former students among the many. Kraig Patterson  (formerly with Mark Morris) and Unity Phelan, Phelan, whose father is entrepreneur John Phelan, was named in a March 1 essay on rising stars at City Ballet by New York Times critic Alastair Macauley. I saw Phelan teach a master class at PBS and was captivated by her energy and fascinated by her feet. More on that at another time.

Meanwhile I hark back to what was, for me, the heyday of modern dance in Central Jersey, the early ’80s, when Robertson launched an innovative company, Teamwork Dance. Teamwork concerts were never dull, The late Geulah Abrahams and Michelle Mathesius  had their own companies — and even Mark Morris performed at Trenton’s Mill Hill Playhouse. Grant money was available and — surprise! — just a little bit of dough encouraged a lot of dance.

One of Teamwork’s principals, Janell Byrne, also danced with Abrahams and has had her own company for three decades at Mercer County Community College’s Kelsey Theatre. Her choreography is on the program this weekend at Rider University, which is now the center for innovative dance. “Transforming and manipulating a scenic element…..” sounds intriguing!


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