By Jessica Hergert
The American Repertory Ballet (ARB) honored choreographer and musical theater and dance instructor Mary Barton through the production of “Woman of Dance” on Sept. 23.
The ballet showcased three of Barton’s most memorable pieces, including her newest work, “Scarlet Sonata.”
Barton joined ARB as a ballet master and residential choreographer seven years ago, but has been choreographing for the company for 20 years. She has been a musical theatre and dance instructor at Rider since 2002.
“[Barton] is not only a gifted craftsman but an expressive narrator,” ARB’s artistic director Douglas Martin said. “[She] has developed a unique voice.”
As 7:30 p.m. neared in the BLC, audience members quickly began filling their seats. Ballet enthusiasts quietly discussed the playbill while snapping selfies showing off their fancy theater attire.
An excited audience member whispered to his wife, “I hope it is as good as it was last night.”
After a laborious four-week rehearsal period, the dancers were eager to submerse the audience in a combination of traditional and contemporary ballet while expressing their dedication to Barton’s vision. As the lights dimmed, the audience fixed its attention on the stage.
Piano music, mixed with the unmistakable sound of pointed shoes on stage, jarred the audience out of the initial quiet as the five female dancers began “Scarlet Sonata.”
Wearing red leotards, the dancers brought strength, stamina and grace to the stage. The women performed a more traditional ballet that showcased their commitment to the rigorous technique.
Interestingly, the women did not wear tights, a choice that seemed all too perfect for the contemporary theme of the ballet as a whole.
Throughout the piece, each dancer had the chance to show off her skills in a solo. The other four performers would then flow back onto the stage making the dance both balanced and visually exciting. Costume changes and background lighting expressed the mood the women wanted to portray.
“The choreography was not only unique and refreshing, but wonderfully carried out by the dancers,” said Sarah Parylak, a senior elementary education major and former ballerina.
After a brief intermission, the second act began with an instantly different feeling as five men took the stage to perform “Five Men and a Concerto.” Although this second act was shorter than the women’s dance, the performance was a hit with the crowd.
When the curtain opened, smoke from the stage washed over the front rows. Unlike the first act which relied heavily on the changing backdrop to create mood, the second act used stage lights to cast different colors which seemed to illuminate what the dancers were conveying.
The men served as the bridge between traditional ballet as seen in “Scarlet Sonata” and contemporary ballet which would be showcased in the finale by using facial expressions and comedy to engage the audience.
The men’s strength was evident as they leapt across the stage. One could see the sweat forming on their faces as the tempo quickened and the routine increased in difficulty.
As the lights came on for the second intermission, the room erupted into discussion about what the final act would entail.
“Straight Up with a Twist” incorporated the entire company.
Set to a track by independent-folk violinist Kaila Flexer and multicultural band Third Ear, the piece was a beautiful display of contemporary dance that caused people to gasp in amazement.
“All three acts were beautiful, but I specifically enjoyed the final piece,” Parylak said. “It was an exquisite display of contemporary dance mixed with the traditional aspect of ballet.”
The dancers paired off for much of the piece creating an enjoyable change from the past two acts. The partner work was stunning, filled with powerful lifts and a convergence of several styles of dance.
The end was abrupt, seeming to cut the dancers off rather than allow for a graceful finish. It was intentional, as the entire finale came across as an unconventional challenge on traditional ballet. The audience responded with a flourish of applause, impressed by the style choice.
As the final curtain call came, each dancer and couple took a bow.
The audience left the theater raving about the show. Many of Barton’s students at Rider attended the show to show their admiration for Barton and they were not disappointed.
“Mary Barton is a star,” senior musical theater major Dan Maldonado exclaimed. “We are lucky to have her as our teacher.”
Printed in the 9/27/17 edition.