New Jersey Ballet

October 23, 1999

New Jersey Ballet

Wilkins Theatre, Kean University
Union, New Jersey

October 23, 1999

Reviewed By Karyn D. Collins

When New Jersey Ballet celebrated its fortieth anniversary last season, the unspoken question for many ballet fans in the Garden State was how this little troupe has managed to hang on all these years.

Founded and still headed by former American Ballet Theatre dancer Carolyn Clark, NJB has remained a steady and reliable presence in New Jersey’s dance community. While it is the state’s oldest dance company, it is the second largest in terms of funding and number of dancers. But while other, younger troupes have grown larger, won bigger grants, gained more national attention, and attracted flashier names over the years, somehow NJB has persevered. Why?

Its focus on ballet’s classical repertory, mixed with a neoclassical nugget here or a fluffy entertainment vehicle there, has been key to helping them retain a loyal audience. While following this formula has worked for this fifteen-member troupe, finding good repertory to add, as well as maintaining dancers who can handle the rigors of the existing repertory, has in recent years proven to be the challenge. The troupe’s forty-first season opener showed that NJB is working to meet both challenges.

For now, the troupe appears to be having more success in finding dancers (about half the troupe has joined within the last two seasons) than it has had finding new repertory.

That was evident in its performance of George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante. Led by an impressive Julia Vorobyeva and Andrei Jouravlev, NJB’s dancers showed how they can dazzle when given a good piece of choreography. This Allegro lacked something in its attack, but there was a welcome warmth and clarity to the performances that more than compensated.

Jouravlev showed off his superb partnering skills, performing with control and quiet finesse. Vorobyeva was equally sparkling in her pas de deux with Jouravlev, but she was shaky in some of the quick passages of pique turns and pirouettes.

The corps de ballet was equally impressive, but this is where the dulled attack showed.

The classical repertory that is NJB’s calling card was represented by a dazzling Esmeralda pas de deux by Rosemary Sabovick-Bleich and Konstantin Dournev. Sabovick-Bleich, in particular, is that rare dancer with the technical strength to toss off the tricks like multiple fouette turns, but she has the artistic maturity to bring out more subtle nuances as well.

This performance also marked the company debut of Chinese ballerina Yan Li, featured in the white swan pas de deux from Swan Lake. Unfortunately, Li’s Odette was impassive and distant, leaving her gorgeous line as the only element to savor.

The premiere work on this bill, Michael Vernon’s Western Sweet, was an uneven bit of puffery dressed up in cowboy boots and Stetsons.

The program was rounded out by the choreographically fussy ensemble work, Verdi Pas de Six, performed by former NJB principal Elie Lazar.

With a solid crop of dancers on board for the season, it appears that the search for good works for NJB will continue to be its major challenge.