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A magical ‘Nutcracker,’ in Morristown

As the days grow shorter and streets bustle with holiday shoppers, the children begin to grow restless. Christmas is just around the corner promising momentous events, and excitement simmers in young hearts. Composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky felt this excitement, too, and no one has ever captured the feelings associated with this special time of year as brilliantly as he did in his score for “The Nutcracker.” New Jersey Ballet opened a run of “Nutcracker” performances on Friday at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, unwrapping its annual holiday gift to audiences; and once again the spirit of “The Nutcracker” held sway. As the orchestra took up the overture, under the baton of Gary S. Fagin, we could hear the children skipping as they played, and when the tempo quickened we could feel their breathless, almost unbearable anticipation. The games and small tragedies that unfold as the “Nutcracker” family celebrates under the Christmas tree … Continue Reading →

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10 Hairy Legs presents varied, exhilarating program

American modern dance is often like a monologue. Fans typically spend an evening watching as a lone choreographer gives his spiel. But then there are the repertory companies. There aren’t many of them yet, but when a group like 10 Hairy Legs performs, as it did on Nov. 9 in the Theatre at Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg, the scenery changes and styles switch abruptly. Continue Reading →

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New Jersey Ballet show has timeless appeal


New Jersey Ballet remains immune to fads. With a repertoire grounded in the classics, this company prides itself on its ability to perform in the grand manner. The troupe’s season opener, Saturday at the Mayo Performing Arts Center, in Morristown, did not disappoint. Titled “From Romance to Tragedy,” the program featured a collector’s assortment of pas de deux, including rarities and items created for New Jersey Ballet, with the duets sandwiched between lively divertissements. On a program consisting of short numbers it is easier for romance to spark than for tragedy to ripen, however. Continue Reading →

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‘Great Britten’ a great showcase for choreographer Richard Alston’s talents


For those less attuned to the avant-garde offerings in the Peak Performances series at Montclair State University, there is good old Richard Alston, the relatively tame British choreographer whose Richard Alston Dance Company returned to Montclair last Thursday. (There were also shows Friday through Sunday.)

Alston was schooled in Graham technique and in the “pure dance” aesthetics of the 1970s; his gung-ho athleticism and his taste for shape and structure are reassuringly familiar. Add spectacular scores by Benjamin Britten and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, played and sung live by the American Contemporary Music Ensemble and  the Montclair State University Vocal Accord, and you have a program titled “Great Britten” that practically anyone will love. Although Alston isn’t primarily a storyteller, most of these scores (the Britten, anyway) include texts the choreographer uses as points of departure. The Mozart duet excerpted from Alston’s “Unfinished Business” describes a relationship, and hence imposes a scenario. Continue Reading →

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Dorfman embraces the new at homecoming show


Nostalgia was in the air when the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company appeared on Sunday in the Bickford Theatre of the Morris Museum in Morris Township. The company made its debut there in 1982, and this return was billed as a “homecoming.”

During intermission, Dorfman thanked the people who helped her launch the troupe, but she didn’t linger over reminiscences. Soon it was back to the future with a performance of the choreographer’s “Interior Designs.” A visually arresting piece that bathes the auditorium in projections, “Interior Designs” was created last year, employing “video mapping” technology that didn’t exist in 1982. It would have been interesting to see one of the dances from the company’s inaugural season, but like most creative artists Dorfman is more interested in where she’s going than in where she’s been. The oldest piece on the program, “Love Suite Love,” had its premiere on the Bickford stage in 1992. Continue Reading →

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American Repertory Ballet charms with neo-classical pieces


Mary Barton has choreographed a charming divertissement for American Repertory Ballet. This premiere, “Shades of Time,” opened the devoutly neo-classical program that ARB presented on Saturday at The Theater at Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg. Barton, a company ballet mistress, and her husband, company director Douglas Martin, view the classroom as a font of inspiration that never runs dry. It provided the vocabulary for all three pieces on Saturday; and while these works varied in style and atmosphere, all found their ultimate justification in the beauty of their classical language. Set to autumnal music by Elgar, “Shades of Time” depicts the passing hours. Continue Reading →

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Freespace Dance: mystical movement in Montclair


Freespace Dance has a new home. With a shiny, new bamboo floor and a handful of stage lights hanging from the ceiling, the long room feels inviting and it comes with all the good karma generated by Yoga Montclair, the host organization. The troupe gave its second-ever performance at “The Space” at Yoga Montclair on Friday, offering a mystical program choreographed by company director Donna Scro and including two premieres. “Breath and Beat,” the first new piece, seemed like a sequel to “Stumbling Blocks, Stepping Stones,” a solo Scro choreographed for herself earlier this year. In “Stumbling Blocks” the floor becomes a maze with bricks and paving stones laid in patterns that suggest the footprint of a vanished city. Continue Reading →

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‘Steel Meeting’: Dance in an unlikely setting


Some day, perhaps, coffeehouses and boutiques will mushroom on the corner of Halladay Street and Johnston Avenue in Jersey City. But for now, this stop on the JC Studio Tour is still just an “arts district” in embryo, a cheap place where artists who don’t mind getting their hands dirty can forge a reputation as community builders. Down the street from the corner bodega, and surrounded by modest homes, is the old metal-working factory where visual artist Elaine Hansen has installed a gallery and recording studio. On Sunday, the dance company SHUA Group performed there, offering the premiere of an intriguing piece called “Steel Meeting” in the factory’s rear sheds. Those abandoned spaces have broken floors and pieces of equipment — whatever it seemed useless to strip and cart away — bolted to the walls or attached to rails in the ceiling. Continue Reading →

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For Eva Lucena, flamenco is forever

Careers in dance are typically short, but maybe no one ever mentioned that to flamenco dancer Eva Lucena. Or maybe she pretended not to hear. Lucena, 75, still performs and teaches with the Alborada Spanish Dance Theatre, which she directs. On Oct. 11, the company, which is now based in Fords, will honor her with a performance titled “A Forty-Year Flamenco Journey,” marking the anniversary of Lucena’s arrival in the United States. Continue Reading →

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Top choreographers team up for SOPAC show

Choreographers Randy James, Lydia Johnson and Erin Carlisle Norton will each present a full-length work at the South Orange Performing Arts Center, 1 SOPAC Way, Oct. 10, as the New Jersey State Arts Council showcases the 2014 winners of its Choreography Fellowship. A question-and-answer session with the choreographers — moderated by dance critic Robert Johnson, an contributor — will follow the performances. James will be represented by his Highland Park-based all-male troupe, 10 Hairy Legs, performing his “Pillar of Salt,” a work that, he says in a press release, “crystallized my vision for and motivation to bring the concept of 10 Hairy Legs to fruition.”

Lydia Johnson’s company, Lydia Johnson Dance — based in South Orange, and combining elements of ballet and contemporary dance — will present her “Night and Dreams,” set to Schubert Lieder, and Norton’s Montclair-based contemporary dance troupe, The Moving Architects, will premiere her “Demure as Dynamite.” Showtime is 8 p.m., and tickets are $20 ($15 for SOPAC members). Continue Reading →

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Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company’s ‘Cross-Currents’ show is electrifying

Choreographer Nai-Ni Chen seems able to command the forces of nature. Like a shaman casting spells, she summons the delicate patter of raindrops, the crackle of flames and swirling gusts of wind, bringing the elements indoors and trapping them on stage. Her dancers are dedicated to her, and they held nothing back when the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company opened its 2014-2015 season, on Wednesday, in the Bradley Hall Theatre at Rutgers-Newark. This terrific program, titled “Cross-Currents” and presented by the Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience, featured a mix of contemporary pieces from Chen’s repertoire, plus a Chinese folk dance solo and an excerpt from traditional Kunque Opera. The dances revealed Chen’s skill at harnessing and directing the flow of energy. Continue Reading →

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