. . . 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 Mercer 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.
After 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!
I sat next to moms and dads at the Berlind Theater tonight, while their dance students, mostly young women, many from other states, performed at the closing concert for the Princeton Ballet School summer intensive program. I had watched them at the barre (as above).
The parents had reason to be proud. Very few of them will see their dancers on a professional stage. For some, this performance will be the highlight of their young careers.
It was a worthy highlight. On a professional stage with nice costumes and lighting, the choreography challenged but did not tax; it showcased the average dancer and let the talented shine.
I’m glad for them all, even those not blessed with the right bodies for dance or with the unstinting ambition of their fated-to-be-more-successful peers. All have learned what it is to work and work some more.
For those who make dancing only their avocation, they have a resourece at times when they don’t want to reveal that their hearts are low. They have learned how to hold themselves with a royal air. And no one will know.