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Once Upon a Time... the New Jersey Ballet Targets the Family

By Bruce Chadwick

originally published: 03/21/2023

Once Upon a Time... the New Jersey Ballet Targets the Family

What do you think about when you hear the title “Once Upon a Time”?

The old American West, right? Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday. Bat Masterson. Billy the Kid. Gunsmoke.

No more. The New Jersey Ballet is staging a new ballet called “Once Upon A Time,” but it’s a collection of old ballets, not the old west, strung together, for a new show. The ballet, that will be staged at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 26 at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown and Sunday, April 16 at the Bergen Performing Arts Center (1 p.m. & 4:30 p.m) in Englewood, features a narrator, Martin Harvey, who leads the audience through large parts of Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and Romeo & Juliet.

“I help the dancers tell their story and, at the same time, on stage, I explain to the audience what is happening in that story and how its different parts are merged together,” explained Harvey. He emphasizes that the ballet is staging three different shows, tied together, and not a “dance class.”

Harvey also ties the three ballets to each other.


“They all are large pieces, but their plots are a little bit the same. My job is to tell the audience, particularly children, how you ‘tell a story’ without any dialogue. You can do it, and do it well, and what I do is break down theater’s ‘fourth wall’ to let the audience see how the ballet is put together, what each dancer’s role is and how we hopefully weave all of that together to create an enjoyable show. It’s a little class on how we ‘build’ a story through dance, but it’s very entertaining, too,” he said.

Harvey laughs. “I tell people that we explain how sausage is made. They chuckle at that but then they think about it. The phrase works. We are taking you behind the scenes in a sausage factory.”

He smiles again. “These three ballets, pretty famous ones, all have an interesting story. I am your guide on stage. All three are big architectural pieces that we sort of ‘navigate.’ We bring people from the audience up on to the stage at times in the show, everybody likes that,” he said.

There is a lot of comedy in the show, too.

“I enjoy the comedy, telling funny little stories about the dancer characters and the plot itself. People like to laugh and we do this in such a way that the laughter helps to tell the story, too,” he said.

Harvey introduces each of the three ballets and fills you in on the plot so you can see where the ballet is going. “If people, particularly kids, have an outsider, me, do this, they find the story much easier to follow,” he said.

He enjoys the show’s light-hearted look. “Too many people cringe when you ask them if they want to see a ballet. Too serious! Too serious! Ballet is not always serious, and if we can get kids hooked on ballet, it might just be through something they find enjoyable. Once you get children hooked on ballet, they become fans of it.”

He stops and chuckles. “In the show we have a lot of kids come up on stage to participate, but we also bring up parents. Can you imagine a kid watching his dear old dad dancing with a ballerina?”

He laughs.

“Dad will enjoy the experience, too,” he said.

Harvey, a former dancer with England’s Royal Ballet, thinks the show can work with the New Jersey Ballet because of the dance company. “These people are full of passion and a love of dance. They use the passion well. They don’t take this too seriously, but enjoy the work and have a good time,” said Harvey.

He wants people to see, too, that the themes of these ballets have been the themes of popular movies, too. “West Side Story,” he said. “West Side Story is ‘Romeo and Juliet,” he said.

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When I point that out to movie lovers they are just floored. “Think about it,” I say. They do.

Then their jaws drop. “It is…” they say.

“A great story is a great a story, regardless of the year it is written. I think our three ballets here show that,” said Harvey.

What Harvey enjoys the most is watching the audience enjoy the ballet. “If we can entertain them in this way now, we will hopefully see them here again for more ballets, and their children, too,” he said.

So if you want the teacher to explain the ballet to you, in a very entertaining way, and really enjoy the story, and the dance, get yourself to Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center on Sunday, March 26 or Englewood's Bergen Performing Arts Center on Sunday, April 16.

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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