Monday, November 9, 2015

REVIEW: LOTS OF FUN WITH NJ BALLET AT ANNUAL CENTENARY VISIT

Sheila and OreoBy Sheila Abrams

Dancing is fun to watch. Network television has discovered that, and has even exploited the fact that some people enjoy watching bad dancing!

Well, there was no bad dancing anywhere in sight on Saturday night, when New Jersey Ballet Co. made its annual visit to the Lackland Center at Centenary College. What the substantial audience saw was a vastly entertaining display of dance that incorporated classical ballet, jazz and tap.

As usual, the Livingston-based company, approaching its sixth decade of providing high-quality professional ballet to audiences throughout the Garden State, fielded a diverse group of terrific dancers. A few are home-grown, trained at NJB’s own school. Others come from far away, from Europe, Asia and Latin America. Most have been with NJB a number of years, leading to a consistency of quality and style.

The program Saturday night was one NJB has done for a few years, but never in Hackettstown before. The title, Tappin’ At The Ballet, refers to a happy collaboration with the New Jersey Tap Ensemble, that celebrates the points of contact between the two distinct genres.

Tap is American at heart and ballet was born in Europe, but the two can come together felicitously, as demonstrated in this delightful program. (Add in touches of jazz dance, ballroom and acrobatics to spice things up even further.)

According the NJB’s Assistant Artistic Director, Paul McRae, who introduced the program, several of these pieces were created to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the State of New Jersey in 2014. Using music identified with the many jazz musicians native to and associated with the state, the show was energetic from start to finish.

In Hand in Hand, three standard tunes associated with the Count Basie Orchestra provided the rhythmic sound for three couples. The ladies are en pointe, and the choreography, by Matthew Rushing, stays within the classical vocabulary, but with a jazz accent and a flirtatious flavor.

A Tisket, A Tasket, in the unmistakably crystal tones of the great Ella Fitzgerald, sets the scene For Ella, this time the familiar melodies from The Great American Songbook as interpreted by choreographer Margo Sappington. Impish and gymnastic, the dancers invoke an array of moods. We were particularly charmed by the duet of Ilse Kapteyn and Narek Martirosyan dancing to Hernando’s Hideaway.

The tappers came onto the stage after the intermission, with Karen Callaway Williams, Jeffry Foote and Kyle Wilder turning themselves into loose-limbed percussion instruments to another jazz standard, Crazy Rhythm. This piece was choreographed and staged by Deborah Mitchell, Artistic Director of the Bloomfield-based tap group.

The program came to a superb conclusion with a number entitled Top Hat Medley, choreographed by Mitchell and James Kinney. Kinney is classically-trained but with a strong background in jazz dance and musical theater. This piece was also created for the state’s 350th celebration.

Featuring six ballet dancers and six tappers, this was a perfect way to bring the evening to a climax. Pointe shoes and tap shoes challenged each other and imitated each other. The sounds and the images provided the ingredients for a joyous and irresistible celebration of dance itself.

The NJB’s visit to Hackettstown concluded on Sunday afternoon with a more classical work: Sleeping Beauty. Dance has many faces to please many different audiences.