By Jessica Hergert
The American Repertory Ballet (ARB) is returning to the Bart Luedeke Center for a commemoratory performance honoring choreographer Mary Barton on Sept. 22 and 23.
ARB is celebrating 15 years’ worth of pieces choreographed by Barton, a musical theater and dance instructor at Rider since 2002. She joined ARB as a ballet master and residential choreographer seven years ago.
ARB is no stranger to the Rider stage, having performed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” just last year.
According to the ARB website, “[Our] mission is to bring the joy, beauty, artistry and discipline of classical and contemporary dance to New Jersey and nationwide audiences and to dance students through artistic and educational programs.”
This unique ballet, titled “Woman of Dance,” showcases three of Barton’s most-recognized works, according to arballet.org.
“I had quite a few works to choose from,” Barton said. “The three pieces being performed at Rider were chosen because I liked the idea of presenting a female-only ensemble, ‘Scarlet Sonata,’ then an all-male cast, ‘Five Men and a Concerto,’ culminating with the whole company in the finale piece, ‘Straight Up with a Twist.’”
ARB Artistic Director Douglas Martin, who is in charge of the ballet’s “artistic path,” spoke highly of Barton’s work.
“[Barton] is not only a gifted craftsman but an expressive narrator,” he said. “We have been the beneficiary of many of her amazing works.”
Barton’s contribution to the world of dance extends past her breathtaking choreography, according to Martin.
“Women make up the largest portion of professionals in the dance world, from students to performers and teachers,” Martin said. “Once done with dancing, women are greatly underrepresented as choreographers and directors. While we are seeing a shift in this demographic, there is still a long way to go to reach parity.”
For Barton, the performance is all about the dancers and the work they put in.
Both the all-female piece and the all-male piece will have five members each. The final piece, involving the entire company, will showcase the individuals’ talents.
Depending on the ballet, dancers can rehearse from as little as one week to as long as five weeks, Barton said. To prepare for “Woman of Dance,” the men and women have been tirelessly rehearsing for four weeks.
“[They] have learned a lot of material and are working their bodies hard preparing for these performances,” Barton said.
During the four-week rehearsal period, the dancers work on polishing steps, building stamina and muscle memory. Barton is confident in the dancers’ readiness to perform at Rider, expressing how excited they are to get on stage.
Barton also highlighted the unique music choices made for the ballet, particularly in “Straight Up with a Twist.” The piece is set to the “eclectic sounds” of independent-folk violinist Kaila Flexer and multicultural band Third Ear.
“The music is quite varied, which makes it interesting and fun for the ears,” Barton said.
When asked about the challenges Barton and Martin found with “Woman of Dance,” their responses were similar: every piece has obstacles.
“Every new work creates challenges for the dancers both in the physicality and emotional content of the work,” Martin said. “This performance shows the range of dance vocabulary, technique and style that Barton brings.”
Barton and Martin, both former prestigious dancers, are excited for the premiere of the ballet.
Barton wants the audience to come in with a “festive” mindset.
“I hope they are entertained, intrigued and moved,” she said. “I hope they can see the music being expressed through the movement of the dancers and that they are inspired to continue enjoying live performances by highly skilled performers.”
Printed in the 9/20/17 edition.