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New Jersey Ballet Heads in New Directions with "New Direction"

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By Bruce Chadwick

originally published: 11/15/2022

New Jersey Ballet Heads in New Directions with "New Direction"

A new era begins on Saturday, November 19th, no matter how chilly it gets, for the New Jersey Ballet, the state’s long standing ballet troupe. It will become the resident ballet company of the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, one of the state’s premier theaters.

To mark the momentous event, new artistic director Maria Kowroski  is presenting a unique program, New Direction, that is like a wedding – something borrowed, something old, something new, etc. She has combined an older program, Hallelujah Junction, put together by Danish and later American dance director Peter Martins, a borrowed old George Balanchine ballet and a brand new work, assembled by a new dance director, Harrison Ball, a dancer with the New York City Ballet. In short, she apparently has something for everybody for the 8 p.m.. production.

New Direction is just that, a new look for the company. 

“We will keep ballets that were beloved by our audiences, such as, of course, the ‘Nutcracker,’ but we’ll have all new works that will point us in that ‘new direction’ we are seeking.  The New Jersey Ballet will have the older dance that people love plus new works by new people that audiences will love now and in the future,” said Kowroski.

A large part of that puzzle will be the dance troupe’s new home. They will, at dawn Saturday, be the official ‘resident dance company’ of the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, a large theater, and one that sits right in the middle of the northern half of the state, a theater that can attract arts fans from all over. Most of the areas around the northern half of the state are just a half hour drive from the Morristown theater.

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Ms. Kowroski  is jubilant over the new home. “It’s not just that we are their resident company, but a part of something very large. The Mayo Center has, for years, drawn large audiences of dance and entertainment fans. It has its own core audience, and a big one, from which we can attract an all new audience base.”

The future for the ballet is bright, but Ms. Kowroski hopes it will be even brighter.

“We, like all arts organizations, need money. I am hopeful that over the first few years as a resident company we can raise it,” she said.

With that money, she has big plans. “Now, we have a 22 week season and I’m hoping for a 26 week season next year. Companies like ours around the United States have seasons that are usually about 38 weeks long, some longer. We need that. I want to offer people longer programs and different programs, I am shooting for 38 weeks in a few years and then bigger and bigger in the coming years. I dream of a 40 week season. 

“In that 38 or 40 week season, we’ll perform often at the Mayo Center in Morristown but, like now, stage ballets all over the state. We will keep doing that,” she said.

She wants more dancers. “We have a good-sized company now, but I’d like a lot more dancers, and dancers with very diverse backgrounds. I want to do classic ballets, such as ‘Nutcracker,’ but different types of dance, too. I want a contemporary look to the company overall. I want a company that changes every few years. Look at the big ballets in the U.S. They succeed because they continually change. We need to do that,” Kowroski added.

The artistic director loves Morristown. “I almost moved here. I went to the Livingston area instead, but I understood right away why people love Morristown. It is trendy, full of restaurants, centrally located to just about everything. It is a trendy place, very ‘with it.’ I love the architecture too, and the history of the place. It is, really, that perfect place for a big arts center like the Mayo and for us,” she said.

The New Direction show, and its place as the kick off for the New Directions program, seems customized for Ms. Kowroski.

“Morris is a large county and right next to other large counties such as Bergen, Essex, Union and Somerset. Hopefully, we’ll draw a lot of people from those counties to the ballet, too,” she said.

New Jersey Ballet Heads in New Directions with "New Direction"

She is an adventuress. As an example, she was scanning Instagram six or seven months ago and – oh, my - there was a collection of new dances on it. She was intrigued.

“Harrison Ball had directed a program of four or five dances – very new dances – and showcased them there. I saw them and I liked them. I got in touch with him, right out of the blue. We had a nice conversation. Now we are staging his works. They are different. They are new. They are just exactly what we are looking for,” said Kowroski.

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Ball’s works are not a story. “They are an abstract , That’s the best way I can put it. Interestingly, Ball’s works focus heavily on women’s dresses. There’s a new look! When you see it, you’ll realize how the dresses help the work become not only, well, pretty, but smooth and enchanting,” explained Ms. Kowroski.

The Peter Martins’ work is older. “It started out when he was a choreographer in Denmark. He brought it here when he moved to America. I always loved it and wanted it in the New Direction show. He was gracious enough to give it to us. The way we are  presenting the work has even more energy in it,” she said.

The Balanchine program? “Oh, something old, but, well, nobody needs a reason to present Balanchine as part of any program, right?” she said.

And so, with Saturday’s New Directions, the ballet company is headed off in a new direction.

New Jersey Ballet Heads in New Directions with "New Direction"

Bruce Chadwick worked for 23 years as an entertainment writer/critic for the New York Daily News. Later, he served as the arts and entertainment critic for the History News Network, a national online weekly magazine. Chadwick holds a Ph. D in History and Cultural Studies from Rutgers University. He has written 31 books on U.S. history and has lectured on history and culture around the world. He is a history professor at New Jersey City University.



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