Tuesday, November 11, 2014

REVIEW: NJ BALLET BRINGS BROADWAY TO CENTENARY STAGE

Sheila and OreoBy Sheila Abrams

The word “Broadway” seems almost magical, when it comes to drawing audiences. Even here, in Northwest New Jersey, where the Great White Way itself is just a little more than an hour away, when you attach that word to an event’s title, it enhances the attraction.

So it makes sense that New Jersey Ballet, the Livingston-based company with a long history of professional excellence, has decided to build a program around Broadway dance. Dance has always been a big attraction on Broadway, and dating back to On Your Toes (choreographed by George Balanchine in 1936), classical and neo-classical ballet has had a prominent place on the Broadway stage.

The Broadway-based program presented by New Jersey Ballet, at Centenary College on Nov. 8, while energetic and entertaining, did not have much that was literally extracted from actual Broadway shows. One exception was the super-athletic Challenge Dance from Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. That show began life as a 1954 movie, and gravitated to Broadway in 1982. The number performed by the talented NJB dancers on Saturday night was choreographed by Patti Colombo, from the 2007 revival at the Paper Mill Playhouse. Not exactly Broadway, but close.

Another number with a close Broadway connection was Too Darn Hot, from Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate. This was a big production featuring 19 dancers. But again, the highly entertaining dance number was not from the Broadway production but rather from a 2008 version at the Paper Mill Playhouse, also choreographed by Patti Colombo.

The Millburn playhouse, a terrific place for lavish first-class revivals of Broadway musicals, had a prominent place in the NJB show at Centenary. In addition to providing choreography (and apparently backdrops) for two of the numbers, Paper Mill sent its Broadway Show Choir along. This troupe of 40 young singers perform in the style popularized by the television show, Glee, with choreography to go with the music. They offered three numbers during the evening, including Another Opening, Another Show, also from Kiss Me Kate.

One number with deep Broadway roots, if not literally from a Broadway show, was March, choreographed by James Kinney. This piece, inspired by and danced by six couples to Another Hundred People from Stephen Sondheim’s iconic Company, and incorporating additional music from George Gershwin. March had its origin at Lincoln Center in 2009.

Other numbers honored other composers, including Count Basie (choreographer Matthew Rushing’s charming piece, Hand in Hand, for three couples), and James P. Johnson and William “The Lion” Smith (in James Kinney’s Stride in Style.)

Totally unrelated to Broadway (though the original was filmed on the Hoboken docks) was the movie On the Waterfront, the inspiration for the lushly romantic pas de deux by Margo Sappington, just called Waterfront. Beautifully performed by Risa Mochizuki and Andre Luis Teixeira, it may have some Broadway “cred” because it was danced to a selection from the only film score ever composed by Leonard Bernstein. Some think it among the greatest film scores ever.