BalletCNJ dancers in final pose in Paquita "Grand Pas Classique"

On June 9th, 2018 at Villa Victoria Academy Theater in Ewing, NJ, BalletCNJ, a pre-professional ballet school which is just beginning to make a statement in New Jersey, took the stage presenting “Crimson Premieres” with Special Guest Artists: Mary Carmen Catoya, Prima Ballerina of Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida, and Kleber Rebello, Principal Dancer with the Miami City Ballet. The ballet school, under the direction of Artistic Director Alexander Dutko and School Director Thiago Silva, is wrapping up surprisingly only it’s fourth year as a professional training ground for dancers ages 3-19. The school prides itself for not only challenging their students but bringing them to a level that shows the audience the process in which stars are born.

BalletCNJ’s Spring performance, not to be confused or even categorized with shows and recitals of other schools in the area, takes their dancers and audience into a world that is the perfect correlation between something one might see in a big city arts scene and a tightly knit family atmosphere seen from a treasured local ballet school. BalletCNJ’s “Crimson Premieres” offered the audience a program consisting of three premieres: “Come One, Come All!”, “Venia”, and the classical masterpiece “Paquita Grand Pas Classique”. Each ballet proved that Directors Alexander and Thiago are providing their young artists with the means to experience different styles and performance opportunities, ensuring them a future with experience in repertoire that resembles that of the works of a professional ballet company. The audience was transported by a program which caught their attention, inspired them, and most importantly, showcased young talent on the rise.

Timothy O'Brian as the Ring Master with his Spec Girls in "Come One, Come All!"

First on the program was “Come One, Come All!”, a circus inspired ballet created by BalletCNJ to showcase and give opportunities for its younger dancers to flourish on the stage. Set in the 1920s, the ballet began outside of the vibrantly colored red and white circus tent, with a scene capturing the anticipation leading up to the greatest show on earth. BalletCNJ Dancer Division students, dressed in fashions of the 1920s, galivanted across the stage mingling, sampling treats such as cotton candy and popcorn, and cheering on special appearances from sides show acts such as a bearded lady and the acclaimed Charlie Chaplin. Timothy O’Brian, who took on the role of the main event’s Ring Master, did a wonderful job of making the audience feel as if they, themselves, were the patrons sitting just beyond the main ring.

As the tent rose, colorful pink feather fans held by the glamorous Spec girls, sporting lacquered blonde waves of hair and bubble gum toned costumes, concealed the Ring Master as the show began. One by one, exciting acts such as Commedia di Marionettes, Ferocious Lions (BalletCNJ’s youngest students who jumped through a flaming ring of fire), an unexpected Strong Man from Copacabana, a rainbow line up of clowns who entered through a whimsical clown car, and the entertaining, crowd pleasing trio of Acrobats named “The Amazing Flick-Flack Sisters” made their debut. Each act danced in entertaining and humorous sections, which kept the audience wanting more. The circus concept, which in many instances can prove to be fun but overwhelming to the eye, was masterfully designed in all aspects. The props and costumes were cleverly implemented and the piece not only included the youngest dancers but also showcased their abilities and kept the audience full of smiles and roaring cheers. Overall, BalletCNJ succeeded remarkably in handing over the responsibilities of “putting on a show” to the young artists. Each performer convinced the audience of their capabilities when given their chance in the “lime light”.

Iris Foster and Reed Henry in "Venia"

Next up was a contemporary ballet titled “Venia”, choreographed by Director Alexander Dutko. This change of pace brought the audience into a calmer and more focused state. When the curtain rose, dancers began appearing in silhouette, walking in silence. As the lights came up to a simple but effective crimson tone, the demeanor and intense look in the eyes of the dancers implied that a statement was about to be made. Once the dancing took off, it was clear that the performers (1 male and 8 females), were on a mission to explore and show the audience their abilities within a mature work. Set to intricate music with a middle eastern sound, the cast moved across the stage diligently and musically, showcasing a contemporary way of movement with much attention to detail. Although this ballet appeared extremely minimal in comparison the over-the-top “Come One, Come All!”, each dancer, individually and as a group, consumed the stage and made it clear that any space in this piece was to be filled with the language of movement.

At the completion of the first movement, the lights returned to silhouette and made it apparent that the focus now would come down to select performers. Reed Henry, the only male performer in this piece, Iris Foster a strong and determined presence, along with dancers Livia Childers and Jeanette Smith, distinguished “Venia” as a piece which was more about the conversation amongst the dancers themselves rather than a particular story line. Henry, 13 years old, danced a powerful solo which portrayed a strong male presence while still allowing moments of vulnerability. He commanded the stage and executed movements with intention well beyond his years. Foster helped to steer the audience to the fact that she was the dominant female performer. With attention to the music and use of the stage, Foster executed a solo highlighting complicated choreography with nuance that proved the BalletCNJ dancers are encouraged to dissect every movement and bring their artistry to the forefront of their performance.

The piece came to a conclusion with the entire cast throwing one last punch to the audience! “Venia”, a commanding and powerful piece, set these dancers apart from any small school expectations and let the audience know that the young artists were on a mission: to not simply dance, but to leave a lasting impression on audience members.