The New Jersey Ballet Company celebrates its 60th anniversary with programming that honors its history while looking towards the future, officially opening its season Nov. 10 with “Highlights from the Repertory” at the Mayo Performing Arts Center.
“The New Jersey Ballet has an impressive history, and the State Arts Council is proud to help support their future,” said New Jersey State Council on the Arts Executive Director Allison Tratner.
“For 60 years, this company has been bringing high-quality ballet to people of all ages, balancing excellence and access. From their programs for young audiences to their work with New Jerseyans living with Parkinson’s, the New Jersey Ballet has enriched the lives of so many, and we look forward to another exciting season.”
When Carolyn Clark founded the Livingston-based company in 1958, the Garden State lacked a professional ballet troupe, said Assistant Artistic Director Paul McRae. Dance fans had to cross state lines — to New York or Philadelphia — to find high quality performances
Then NJ Ballet came onto the scene. Not only were the dancers professional caliber, the company made it a point to perform throughout the state, offering affordable shows to out-of-the-way communities that might not have had previous exposure to such cultural opportunities.
“It really changed the dynamics of the arts in New Jersey,” McRae said, noting how the company immediately began partnering with other organizations to enrich the audience experience. “We really built a reputation for bringing on the forefront of bringing arts to the state.”
Its also built an international reputation: In 2008, the company made history as the first to perform a full-length classical ballet in India. NJ Ballet has performed in Russia twice and visited Italy, Bermuda and Taiwan.
But its most important work is closer to home: During its half-year dance season, NJ Ballet will offer classic and contemporary ballet and jazz at large showcase facilities — Mayo PAC as well as the NJ Performing Arts Center and Bergen Performing Arts Center — as well as smaller venues ones.
As it has for 48 years, the company will perform “The Nutcracker” at different state venues. The company has developed new programs and outreach. “Ballet with a Latin Beat,” programming created by choreographers of Latino heritage, first came onto the company’s schedule four years ago and has become a popular favorite.
Year-round outreach initiatives include school programs and the Dancing for Parkinson’s Program (which offers free movement classes for caregivers and patients with Parkinson’s Disease).
“The arts are all about building community and spreading joy and culture,” said. “Keeping classical works alive and relevant is a really important and worthwhile thing.”
It is proud to be a dancers’ company, McRae said.
Dancer Kotoe Kojima-Noa, who is retiring from the stage after this season to take on an administrative role with the company, asked that “Reflections on the Pond,” a pas de deux choreographed by former company dancer Andrei Jouravlev, be part of farewell season.
She’ll be dancing in it at Mayo Nov. 10. Also on the season opener’s bill: Late NJ Ballet founding director George Tomal’s “Gold and Silver Waltzes” and “Entre Dos Aguas,” a flamenco/jazz inspired contemporary ballet by renowned choreographer Robert North.
“We look for dancers that we can build a repertoire around as opposed to molding dancers into a certain look, which is why our repertoire is so varied,” McRae said. “We also showcase different dancers in different pieces.”
N.J. Ballet has always had a family-feel, McRae said.
“People joke that if you come here, you end up marrying someone and staying here forever,” he said, noting he’s done both. He estimated that at least 30 couples met through the arts organization, including four in the current company and McRae and his wife.
With the company’s school, NJ School of Ballet, graduating more students than ever, there’s a good chance NJ Ballet can keep going for another six decades.
“I don’t know exactly where the company would be, but I hope it will still be presenting the classical works as well as the latest contemporary works,” McRae said. “I’m hoping the company will still be relevant and still be moving with the times.”
For more details about the 2018-19 season, visit http://www.njballet.org/
NEW JERSEY BALLET’S 60TH ANNIVERSARY OPENER
Mayo Performing Arts Center
100 South St., Morristown
Tickets: $29-59, available online at www.mayoarts.org. Nov. 10.
Natalie Pompilio is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find her on Twitter @nataliepompilio. Find NJ.com/Entertainment on Facebook.
N.J. Ballet is still on its toes after six decades