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Two, Not Three, Is the Charm in Dance

By Bruce Chadwick

originally published: 08/10/2023

Two, Not Three, Is the Charm in Dance

They say three is the charm, but this coming season at the New Jersey Ballet it is two that will be the charm, two old dance chestnuts that will be made fresh again.

Maria Kowroski, the dance company’s artistic director, was looking for some new ballets to add to her company’s repertory and she came up with Fancy Free and Rubies, two old standard bearers from decades ago.

They are certainly new additions to the New Jersey Ballet’s repertoire revivals. Fancy Free, in fact, was staged in New York just aa few years ago and to critical acclaim.

Why do them just a short time later?

Ms. Kowroski thinks for a moment. “I think even if New Jersey Ballet theatergoers have seen these ballets, our hope is that they will be excited by these special works and continue to support the New Jersey Ballet,” she said. Both still be staged this coming fall and spring.

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She stresses that although these two ballets debuted long ago, they are still popular with dance fans. They always have been. “As New Jersey Ballet tries to engage a new audience, I am bringing in works that I feel will excite the audiences and keep them returning year after year,” she said.

Why these two? Why not something else?

“I am selecting ballets that not only showcase the strength of the company but also challenge them artistically,” said Ms. Kowroski. “I felt these two iconic works were showcasing the direction I would like the company to go and might attract a broader audience.”

The artistic director of the New Jersey Ballet has another reason. These two ballets are usually presented by large dance companies and involve a large cast. What the New Jersey Ballet wants to do is stage these large works on a small stage, giving audiences the best of both dance worlds.

“I am hopeful that these will bring in a new audience and people who will be eager to see these works often performed by a larger company. It is my vision to create a strong repertory in New Jersey Ballet that will allow residents to enjoy what their ballet company has to offer without the expense of traveling into the (New York) City,” said Kowroski.

She also picked these two because they were originally choregraphed by two men – Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine, who were instrumental in her career.

“They represent the two choreographers that have influenced so much of my career.  I learned so much dancing to their works and I want to give my dancers the same opportunity,” she said.

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And what an opportunity it is.

Fancy Free was a collaboration between choreographer Jerome Robbins and composter Leonard Bernstein very early in their careers (it debuted in 1944). The ballet is the story of three sailors on leave in New York City during World War II. They compete with each other to win the attention of women at different places in the city. It features standard dancing and a lot, and I mean a lot, of flash by the dynamic duo that produced it.

At its premier, Fancy Free received a legendary 24 curtain calls.

They later expanded Fancy Free into a full blown three act musical, On the Town that later became a hit movie starring Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. It has been produced often as On the Town but rarely as just Fancy Free.

Fancy Free was a success right way because it showed regular American sailors – chasing women in New York City – in a brand new, dramatic setting. The ballet, critics said, showcased Robbins as not just a choreographer, but a storyteller, too. It was the start of a long career for him.

Rubies is different. The romantic ballet, its dancers clad in red costumes, is usually performed around the U.S on or near Valentines Day because of the romantic music, costumes, large cast of “Lovers” and the terrific choreography by George Balanchine. Some theaters have used Rubies to showcase their Valentine’s celebration and couples have flocked to see it.

Whoa. These are old ballets. Fancy Free premiered in 1944, 80 years ago. Isn’t that a bit old to win over new, young audiences?

The artistic director does not think so. “It is important to keep these works alive because these are the ballets that inspired so many choreographers today.  It is important to honor these pieces and share them with the community. I believe there is something for everyone in this program and shows the versatility of the company,” she said.

And it is the chance for, oh, what is that marvelous phrase – yes – “everything old is new again…”

Performances of A Night on The Town featuring Jerome Robbins' Fancy Free and George Balanchine's Rubies are scheduled for:

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Two River Theatre (21 Bridge Avenue) in Red Bank on November 4, 2023 at 2:00pm & 7:00pm; and November 5, 2023 at 5:00pm.

Mayo Performing Arts Center (100 South Street) in Morristown on Friday, November 17, 2023 at 7:30pm.

New Brunswick Performing Arts Center (11 Livingston Avenue) in New Brunswick on April 27, 2024 at 7:30pm.

For more on these shows and the entire 2023-24 season at New Jersey Ballet, click here.

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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