“See the Music!” American Repertory Ballet’s “Generations: Influences from the Modern Age” LIVE! at McCarter Theatre

It’s finally feeling like Spring outside Princeton, NJ’s McCarter Theatre Center this Friday, April 20, 2018 evening where dance lovers are excitedly making their way inside to experience the American Repertory Ballet’s performance of Generations: Influences from the Modern Age, a triple bill of critically acclaimed works by José Limón, Gerald Arpino, and Douglas Martin.

As we enter the venue’s historic Matthews Auditorium, we’re introduced to Douglas Martin, who is not only ARB’s Artistic Director, but who also personally choreographed tonight’s production of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Martin — who has spent 40 years in the field of dance — performed with the celebrated Joffrey Ballet for 22 years and also spent ten years on the faculty of Rutgers and Rider Universities before taking over as the Artistic Director of ARB eight years ago.

According to Martin, American Repertory Ballet was founded in 1964 when the company began its association with McCarter Theatre with a holiday performance of The Nutcracker — a production the group continues to do each and every holiday season. Coincidentally, Martin tells us that The Nutcrackerfeatures many children in the company who are trained by a woman who was a child dancer herself in ARB’s original 1964 production!

Filling us in on the ARB as an organization, Martin states, “The American Repertory Ballet is a professional dance company which consists of 13 professional dancers. In addition, we have a second company of pre-professional dancers and interns who come from all over the world to work and study with our company.”

Moreover, according to Martin, ARB is an offshoot of the Princeton Ballet School which, he tells us, was founded in 1954 by Audrée Estey. Currently under the direction of Pamela Levy, these days the school serves over 1000 students at three New Jersey locations — Cranbury, New Brunswick, and Princeton.

When we ask Martin what it’s like to direct a professional dance company here in the Garden State, he replies, “New Jersey is an amazing state — this is where art happens!”

Whereas Martin reminds us that a large number of potential audience members here in New Jersey have the option of experiencing the fine arts in nearby cities like New York and Philadelphia, he also notes that many choose to frequent the arts right here at home, citing such support as a wonderful thing for New Jersey’s own performing artists.

Exclaims Martin, “There is nothing like a live performance! When you see art on television or on a movie screen it is finite, but a live performance is infinite — it’s a complete environment,” before noting, “and the audience is 50% of any live performance — the visceral reaction of the audience is a part of the show — thus creating an environment where you have the performers’ energy against the audience’s energy.”

To create live magical moments in dance, Martin spends much of his time auditioning and finding just the right members for his company, not to mention choosing appropriate works for them to perform and choreographing his own works.

In terms of the intensive rehearsal process involved with a professional dance company like ARB, Martin states, “It’s a collaborative process — I give the dancers the choreography, and then I want them to create characters,” explaining, “I know who my dancers are — I know their strengths and personalities — and I feed them the work, coach them, and let them make the choreography their own.”

In asking what it’s like to finally see his artistic vision come to life before his eyes, Martin responds, “After all the rehearsals, I like when I can go to a show and relax — it’s a fabulous moment when I can just enjoy the work — it’s a moment I love!”

And for Martin — as well as for all New Jersey dance lovers — in tonight’s Generations: Influences from the Modern Age trifecta, there are many moments to enjoy.

According to Martin, tonight’s first piece is José Limón’s There is a Time, which features “modern movement and technique” in a production in which dancers portray “regular people.” As ARB’s Artistic Director, Martin reveals that he chose to present the work of Limón tonight due to Limón’s passion for human experience, his distinctive technique, and for the unique style of movement he employs.

The second piece on tonight’s bill is Sea Shadow with choreography by Gerald Arpino. During his tenure at the Joffrey Ballet, Martin spent the majority of his career working under Arpino, who served as the resident choreographer for the world-famous company. From Arpino, Martin contends he learned about a form of dance which features a “distinctive American-styled athleticism with elongated neo-classical lines.”

The last work the audience will see tonight is Martin’s own interpretation of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, a piece that was so shocking in terms of the avant-garde nature of its music and movement that it caused riots when it first premiered in Paris in 1913. Martin’s creative vision for this production presents the goings-on in a Mad Men-like 1960’s-era Madison Avenue advertising workplace where women struggle for equality in order to achieve success.

Martin reveals that tonight’s program is entitled Generations: Influences from the Modern Age because, as he explains, his own work has been influenced by Limón with respect to his focus on human experience, and has been shaped by Arpino in terms Arpino’s subtle influences of line and style.

With all of that in mind, concludes Martin, “I really hope you will see the music,” suggesting that that is the ultimate goal which the “language of dance” is capable of achieving.

After thanking Mr. Martin for the chat, we take a moment to look around McCarter’s Matthews Auditorium where we can’t help but take in the stage’s beautiful red velvet curtain featuring an illuminated insignia representing a dancer. In addition, we also appreciate the venue’s red velvet seats and gold metallic walls which give this historic arts performance space a regal look and feel.

Soon, the lights dim and the curtain opens for tonight’s first piece, Limón’s There is a Time, which features music by the Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer, Norman Dello Joio. The ballet is based on the Bible passage, Ecclesiastes 3:1–8, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven,” and features vignettes which focus on various seasons in life including a time to “Plant and Reap,” “Heal,” “Mourn,” “Laugh,” and more.

Starting with a circle of dancers holding hands, the piece begins with characters who rise up on their toes and bow in unison. Connected both to each other and to the beautiful sustained music, the dancers move together as one.

The ever-changing circle appears fluid and alive and stays connected until one dancer is left center stage, his expressive body moving, twisting, and responding to the music.

When Della Joio’s music changes to a more sinister mood, the dancer’s movements become jagged and pointed and the lighting becomes more mysterious.

A woman and man dance together — both of their movements more rounded and relaxed with circling steps responding to the composer’s score.

At one point, the music stops and silence ensues. A lone female dancer with a long shawl over her head dances in the stark silence, hands over her mouth.

Soon, a male dancer enters — also in utter silence — clapping and tapping and creating his own rhythmic dance while offstage clapping adds to the soundtrack for his motion.

The female dancer dances in silence around his frozen figure.

The male does a proud dance punctuating his motion with claps coming both from offstage and onstage.

The woman’s flowing dance is in sharp contrast to the man’s rigid motions which are accompanied by the man’s clapping rhythm.

A female dancer in bright colors with flowers in her hair enters laughing, smiling, and dancing joyfully — her skirt swaying as she happily whirls and twirls about the stage. Her light, airy, and playful performance brings a smile to audience members with her joyful antics.

Soon, she is joined by couples who spin as they lock arms and create a close knit circle that flows and rolls to the same happy music the solo dancer introduced us to earlier. This time, the joy is multiplied!

The group dance is followed by two lovers who dance in an embrace as they move with fluidity. The dancers’ hair flies as they jump and leap with jagged movements!

Ending as it began with the ensemble’s return, the dancers recreate the circle they displayed at the outset, dividing into pairs and trios, but always joining back to a circle in motion before reaching a satisfying conclusion.

The audience claps and cheers at the end for this impressive work of art!

Obviously moved by the emotion of the dancers and their physical performance, we chat with several audience members who share their thoughts on There is a Time with us.

Comments Karen from Pennington, “José Limón’s choreography was wonderful and it was executed flawlessly — it was just beautiful. The set was simple — so the lighting was very important — and I especially loved the segment that had no music and which featured all body percussion!”

Karen’s friend, Valerie from Lawrenceville, agrees stating, “There is a Time was magnificent,” and adding, “I also loved the costumes — they looked so soft and flowing, and they moved so well with the dancers’ bodies!”

The lights dim and Act II commences with Arpino’s Sea Shadow featuring music by Maurice Ravel.

Ravel’s fluid impressionism plays as the lights come up on a stage set featuring a lone male dancer stretching and rising up, athletic and graceful at the same time. Dancing to the music of a solo piano, he picks up a seashell and listens to it.

With the introduction of the flute, a beautiful ballerina joins the scene like a mermaid dancing along while the music morphs and changes.

Telling their love story through beautiful flowing movements, an international duo of dancers — Nanako Yamamoto and Aldeir Monteiro — makes the audience feel as if they are seeing an underwater ballet.

Yamamoto is a ballerina who was born and raised in Japan where she performed in such works as The NutcrackerThe Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella. Accepted to the prestigious Royal Ballet Summer School, while still a young dancer, she had the opportunity to perform in England with the Birmingham Royal Ballet for his Royal Highness Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. Before coming to ARB, she also performed with several companies in Florida including Dance Theatre of Tampa, Ballet Fleming, and the Boca Ballet Theatre.

Montiero, however, began his training in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and continued his study at the Miami City Ballet School. After joining the Miami City Ballet, under the direction of Edward Villella, Montiero performed numerous roles in works including Balanchine’s The NutcrackerSlaughter on Tenth Avenue, and others.

Following avid applause for this talented duo’s performance tonight, we chat with several patrons in the house to get their reactions to the ballet thus far.

States Maya, age 13, from Lawrenceville, “This is my first ballet and it’s really cool! I feel like time goes so quickly as I am watching — it seemed like it was only five minutes! The ballet was so grand and graceful, and I love how the dancers were in complete control.”

Adds Maya, “Also, I could tell that this last ballet, Sea Shadow, was a love story, and I enjoyed how the dancers were able to move to the different instruments I heard,” concluding, “It was really incredible!”

States Maya’s sister, Quinn, age 10, “It’s amazing how flexible all the dancers are! I loved their graceful movements. This has been a marvelous experience for me — seeing this ballet, I learned that you really don’t need words to tell a story.”

Maya and Quinn’s friend, Alison, age 10, also from Lawrenceville, agrees with the sisters, adding, “It was just phenomenal. I just loved the way all of the dancers moved.”

Alison’s mom, Amelia, reveals that she’s enjoyed sharing the ballet with her daughter and her daughter’s friends, disclosing, “I read up on the three different stories we’d be seeing today and I loved seeing them come to life,” before exclaiming, “and I’m especially looking forward to seeing Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring!”

Before the curtain rises for Act III, the music to Rite of Spring begins to play, setting the mood to this contemporary piece with its cacophony of sound.

Opening the curtain to a stage setting featuring rectangles of light projected on the back wall, Douglas Martin’s choreography depicts dancers in 1960s -era office wear portraying a variety of characters including office girls, secretaries, ad men, a boss, a maintenance worker, and more.

The musical themes — developed originally by Igor Stravinsky to convey the power of Spring in pagan Russia — are depicted through these more modern-day characters in the form of dancers who leap like gazelles across the stage.

The raw emotion of the dancers spills out onto the stage and into the audiences’ eyes and minds through precise articulated movement.

Without the use of a single word, the dancers tell a complete story of office intrigue and politics — loud and clear — bringing new life to this classic piece of 20th-century music.

Even the curtain call to Martin’s Rite of Spring is stylized and the dancers stay completely in character as audience members leap to their feet and applaud for a job well done!

Audience reactions include comments from Robert from Robbinsville who calls Martin’s Rite of Spring, “awesome” before noting, “Act II and Act III were my favorites. It was very thought-provoking. Who would think that you could get all of that out of Stravinsky?”

Monica from Italy — here tonight to see her daughter’s dance debut with American Repertory Ballet — tells us in English, “It was very beautiful!”

Natalie, a dancer here from Virginia, calls the evening’s performance, “Emotionally powerful, especially Rite of Spring!

Her friend, Mary, another dancer from Chicago, concurs noting, “Rite of Spring portrayed an accurate relationship between men and women. I loved seeing the entire company performing it on stage!”

Lastly, Audrey from Princeton remarks, “I loved the American Repertory Ballet’s entire presentation of Generations tonightAll three stories were impeccable — they were all really different and all had amazing flair to them!”

We also get a moment to meet and chat with the Executive Director of the American Repertory Ballet, Julie Hench, who exclaims, “It’s been an exciting evening!”

As we exit McCarter Theatre Center and out into the streets of Princeton where — even in the dim evening light — we can still see the budding trees and the lush foliage of Spring, we’re reminded about something Douglas Martin said earlier in the evening when he told us, “I really hope you will see the music.”

Thanks to the talents of the American Repertory Ballet dancers — not to mention the three generations of innovative choreographers including Limón, Arpino, and Martin who gave them the visual language they could “speak” — that’s exactly what we did tonight!

For more information about the American Repertory Ballet, please go to arballet.org. To learn more about ARB’s Princeton Ballet School, please click on arballet.org/princeton-ballet-school. Lastly, for further information about upcoming performances at McCarter Theatre Center — including The Dark Star Orchestra on May 14 and Pink Martini on May 22 — please go to mccarter.org.


Photos by Love Imagery