Friday, March 12, 2010

New Jersey ballet kicks up its heels for gala

By Robert Johnson/The Star-Ledger

March 12, 2010, 5:30AM

New Jersey Ballet has planned a colorful, theatrical event for patrons who attend the company’s annual gala benefit Saturday at Prudential Hall in Newark.

In addition to classical showpieces — sunny and vibrant pas de deux from “Le Corsaire” and “The Flames of Paris” — the Livingston-based troupe will reprise “The Three Riddles of Turandot,” a darkly romantic gloss on Puccini’s opera by contemporary choreographer Nai-Ni Chen. The commissioned piece received its premiere in January.

James Kinney’s “March,” from last year, adds an upbeat note of musical theater dancing; and Saturday’s performance will have more than touch of pizzazz, as the New Jersey Tap Ensemble, another beloved local institution, teams up with the ballet dancers in “Top Hat Medley,” the rousing finale.

“We want you to be jumping out of your seats,” says New Jersey Ballet artistic director Carolyn Clark.

The “Le Corsaire” pas de deux will introduce Newark audiences to Kuei-Hsien Chu, a former dancer with the English National Ballet who makes the latest addition to New Jersey Ballet’s international roster of dance artists. Chu will partner ballerina Mari Sugawa, while company principals Kotoe Kojima-Noa and Albert Davydov will be featured in “The Flames of Paris.”

Michelle DeFremery, the company’s resident bombshell, will lead the company in “March.” In this atmospheric dance in several scenes, we follow the heroine as she makes her way through a big city. Using gestures and groupings rather than props to convey his dramatic ideas, Kinney describes a series of cityscapes, starting with the morning rush-hour on a Manhattan subway platform, passing down streets crowded with tourists and strolling languidly through Central Park.

“Turandot” is considerably less carefree. In this fantastic tale set in China’s Middle Kingdom, choreographer Chen dramatizes the life-and-death choices that the ballet’s questing hero, Calaf, must make, as he guesses the answers to three riddles posed by Princess Turandot. The prize for answering all the riddles correctly is Turandot’s hand in marriage, but execution is the penalty for failure. The piece is replete with “emotion and drama,” Clark says.

Kerry Mara Cox and Andre Luis Teixeira are the protagonists in this luxurious cat-and-mouse game. As Turandot, Cox threads her way menacingly on pointe through ensembles in which the movement of swaths of fabric complements the dancers’ energy.

Intricate rhythms are the key to “Top Hat Medley,” jointly choreographed by Kinney and New Jersey Tap Ensemble artistic director Deborah Mitchell. This sampler, dressed with piano-key elegance in tuxedos and black-and-white gowns, will feature such outstanding tap artists as Karen Callaway Williams.

According to New Jersey Ballet’s associate director, Paul H. McRae, the company’s recent collaborations with other prominent dance groups in New Jersey are part of a “cross-marketing” strategy to broaden audiences. Says Clark, “We thought that if we collaborated with different groups, it would introduce ballet to other audiences, and get them to realize that there’s more to ballet than just ‘Swan Lake.’”

The New Jersey Ballet Gala

Where: Prudential Hall, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, One Center Street, Newark

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

How Much: Performance-only tickets are $30-$50. Patron tickets —which include cocktails — are $300. Silver Patrons, $750, also get dinner after the show. Call (973) 597-9600, or visit

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