Review by: Ina Nikolaeva
On June 10, 2017, at Villa Victoria Academy Theatre in Ewing, NJ, BalletCNJ did it again – the school put on a fun, dramatic and breathtaking performance, featuring completely original works and choreography by the two school founders, Alexander Dutko and Thiago Silva. The show consisted of three distinct acts and pushed every student to dance a role suited to their skills that also challenged and further developed him/her as a performer.
The first piece featured the school's youngest dancers in a novel piece entitled “Le Petit Pique-Nique”.With an enchanting backdrop of a sunny lake in a forest that changed from a perfect day to a thunderstorm with some clever lighting, this piece told the story of six adventurous picnickers who encountered bees (Nina Rodriguez and Isabella Wilf), a butterfly (Emalea Kiernan), and an army of ants intent upon stealing watermelon slices hidden in the main characters' basket of goodies (BalletCNJ's youngest dancers). This act created magic using drama and humor, giving the audience the intimate opportunity to meet new characters that have never been danced before. One of the most remarkable aspects was Emalea Kiernan, who, at a young age, executed the part of the butterfly en pointe with grace and flourish. This act truly showcased the entire school’s intense focus on artistry and creativity.
The second act, “Gershwin Suite”, featured some of the most experienced students at BalletCNJ, and relied solely on lighting, Gershwin’s iconic music, and the skill of the dancers to create atmosphere and intrigue. It succeeded beautifully. Amid an energetic group dance, Jeanette Smith and Leopold Foster told the story of a couple unsure of and surprised at their budding romantic feelings for each other through an extended pas de deux. The two leads were astonishing: they were exhilarating to watch, not only because they were both very impressive for their age (both only 14), but because they were well on their way to becoming full-fledged dancers who can command the stage completely by themselves. Such a piece could only be made possible through the abilities of the dancers, and it let them shine despite the challenging music and the classically bare stage (with no scenery to hide behind).
The final ballet - Aladdin: The Wedding Act - was positively magical. The scenery recreated the main ballroom of an elaborate Arabian palace, and the wedding guests filed in group by group to perform their finest dances in front of a stern, yet benevolent, Sultan. From the bridesmaids, palace dancers, swordsmen, and jewels to an undulating snake (Michelle DeAngelis) and an exotic bird (Krista Pinkerton), the dancers and special effects created a sparkling, glittering kingdom against a starry sky background. When Aladdin (Gabriel DeRego) and the Princess (Rebecca Huizer) appeared on stage, everything paused – and you could feel the importance of the moment for them. Following a brief ceremony, they sat back to watch their guests entertain, before performing a beautifully executed pas de deux of their own. This act took advantage of sophisticated and technologically advanced prop work (the Genie, Jefferson Konah, emerged from his lamp in a cloud of illuminated smoke to request his release from the shackles of servitude, and the magic carpet made several guest appearances by flying around in the background).
As is customary at BalletCNJ, the costumes, props and backdrops were almost entirely hand-made by the founders and other dedicated volunteer helpers, demonstrating the overall familial atmosphere of the school and the caring and hard work that goes into every one of their shows. Additionally, this choice allows each performance to stand out, avoiding a formulaic appearance for the characters. In other words, every piece is unique and you cannot see it anywhere else. As always, the dancers were fully prepared, and performed every dance with skill and enthusiasm. Fellow audience members, who had never previously attended a BalletCNJ show, were astounded at the intricacy of the choreography, story lines and scenery, and - of course – at the proficiency of the dancers themselves.
The BalletCNJ family have outdone themselves yet again, and we cannot wait to see what they come up with next!
- By Ina Nikolaeva