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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the February 12, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

A Love for Four Seasons

A romantic holiday can take on an exceptional meaning

when your lover is also your spouse, your artistic partner, and your

business partner. And Mark and Melissa Roxey, co-founders of the Roxey

Ballet Company and the Mill Ballet School in Lambertville, have come

up with an exceptional solution.

The couple will dance together on the Roxey Ballet Company’s Valentine’s

weekend program, "An Evening of Romantic Dance," at the Villa

Victoria Theater in Ewing on Saturday, February 15.

"We haven’t danced on stage in many years," says Roxey Ballet’s

executive director, Mark. "The program theme is all about love

and romance and they’ll be classical, contemporary, and modern works."

The evening’s featured work is a new suite of dances created by Mark

Roxey and called "Four Seasons of Romance." "It’s humorous

and it explores four different types of relationships."

"Melissa and I will dance a section that’s about the first time

you ever see the person you love, and how that is," says Mark.

And it’s no secret why he has chosen this particular blush of young

love. The couple has known each other since they were young teen-aged

classmates together at the Joffrey Ballet School. Today their company

has eight professional dancers featuring principal dancers Elena Martinez

and Andre Ustinov, formerly of the Kirov and Bolshoi Ballet respectively,

working this year on a substantial 29-week contract.

"Four Seasons of Romance" progresses from the duet of first

love to subsequent seasons danced by members of the company. "The

next stage is a piece about what happens on the day you get married.

There’s the wedding day when you surrounded by people who are so important

to that day, but who you may never see again," says Roxey. "The

final stage is what happens after you get married."

Although he doesn’t want to give away too much, Roxey says the work’s

final section — what happens after the wedding — pokes fun

at today’s married mates. "Get ready for a Lazy-boy recliner and

the battle of the remotes," he hints.

For the music, too, he has some surprises. The score features original

and pop sections — "Music that you might not ordinarily expect

to hear at the ballet," he says.

"An Evening of Romantic Dance" also features several other

romantic pas de deux, both classical and modern.These include the

duet from Fokine’s ethereal "Les Sylphides," the dramatically

romantic "White Swan" pas de deux from "Swan Lake,"

and the romantic duet from Roxey’s own choreographed version of "Cinderella."

Roxey Ballet’s "evening of romance" begins with a 6 p.m. pre-performance

reception. Wine and hors d’oeuvres accompanied by an open discussion

about dance led by Mark Roxey and members of the ballet company.

Next comes the performance. Then there’s a final "Dine

Around Town" option that includes dinner reservations at a choice

of area restaurants that include No. 9 Restaurant in Lambertville

and Havana’s in New Hope. Participating restaurants will offer a special

prix fixe Roxey Ballet Valentine’s menu.

The Roxey Ballet Company, official company of the Mill Ballet School

in Lambertville, is a non-profit organization incorporated in New

Jersey in 1995. Since founding his own company, Roxey has choreographed

an astonishing 30 works. He set the company’s full length "Nutcracker"

and "Cinderella" and a host of others. These include "La

Baliene Blanche," "Women and Children to the Left," "Write

Between the Lines," "Palace of Mirrors," "Temptation,"

"Appreciation," "Inside the Out," "In Excess of

Four," "MLK," and "Artillery Man."

"It was a natural progression for us, teaching and dancing, and

doing what we love to do," says Mark. "Melissa’s vocation

is as a teacher — she loves children." The professional couple

are the parents of three-and-a-half-year-old Benjamin.

"I’m city mouse, from Brooklyn, New York, and she’s a country

mouse from Ringoes in Hunterdon County," says Mark. Melissa commuted

to her ballet classes from Ringoes, where her father was in the grocery

business. At age 14 she moved into New York City to pursue professional

career at George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet.

Mark’s mother, who raised him in Brooklyn, is a retired multi-tasker.

While he was growing up, she operated her own hair salon and did make-up

and hair for New York shows. Now she designs and helps create many

of the costumes for Roxey Ballet productions.

The couple were married in Lambertville in 1993 while both were members

of the American Repertory Ballet and the whole company was at the

wedding, Roxey recalls. This was when ARB had just become a fully

professional under Dermot Burke. The wedding guests included Burke,

dancer and choreographer Septime Webre (now director of the Washington

Ballet), and Judith Leviton (formerly director of Princeton Ballet

and now president of board of Roxey Ballet).

As principal dancers Melissa and Mark Roxey have been affiliated with

professional ballet companies that include American Repertory Ballet,

the Dayton Ballet, and the Joffrey Ballet. They have also appeared

together as guest artists with Eglevski Ballet, Septime Webre Dance,

and the North Star Dance Theater, among others.

Mark began his training at the Joffrey Ballet in New York on full

scholarship and went on to dance professionally with the Joffrey.

He then joined the American Repertory Ballet Company and Dayton Ballet

Company as a principal dancer, where he danced in works choreographed

by George Balanchine, Paul Taylor, Jose Limon, Alvin Ailey, Maurice

Petipa, and others. He has served on the faculty of schools that

include Princeton Ballet, Dayton Ballet, and Wright State University.

Melissa began her dance studies at age five following

the syllabus of Britain’s Royal Academy of Dancing. Before turning

professional at age 17, she studied at School of American Ballet and

the Joffrey School; she also trained with renowned New York teacher

Maggie Black. Melissa danced with the American Repertory Ballet as

a soloist, then as a principal with the Dayton Ballet Company. Her

roles include the well-loved Sugar Plum Fairy in "Nutcracker"

and Odile in "Swan Lake."

"When we were dancing professionally and touring all over we’d

come back every year and every year we agreed that this was where

we wanted to come back to. We’re both close to our families and I’m

close to Melissa’s family. And we wanted to move back home," says

Mark.

"To be an artist you have to be really fulfilled in your life

— you can’t be fulfilled living in a vacuum. So to us, part of

the equation is having a full family life and having a family support

system as part of our lives."

Many professional colleagues were shocked when the couple, both principal

dancers, gave up their stage careers to come back to New Jersey to

try to start their own company and school. "We made an intense

decision at the height of our careers — clear to us, but complex

to other people — to exit the professional arena and start again

from scratch," he says. "We decided to build something that

would last — something that did not exist before."

The couple founded the Mill Ballet School in 1996 and it has grown

by leaps and bounds. After spending its first years housed in a humble

one-room studio in Stockton, the school moved in 1999 to a spacious,

state-of-the-art facility in Lambertville. Its mission is to provide

every student with a world class educational opportunity while studying

with the highest caliber faculty in both a positive and creative environment.

"The focus of the school is to provide every student with an equal

opportunity where they can train and develop whether or not they’re

going to be a professional artist or a lifelong supporter of the arts,"

says Mark. He stresses that the school’s dance instruction must serve

the pre-professional dancer as well as the dance-interested youngster.

"We’ve both filled and created a demand for dance instruction

in this area. Before this there was never an approach to developing

artists right here," says Mark. "We all know that basically

dance chooses you."

"Melissa had to leave at 14 to dance and we feel very strongly

that people no longer have to do that. Our training is just as good

and focused and clear as any professional organization in the world."

With the security of the couple’s marriage as a measure, Mark Roxey

calls his company’s "Evening of Romantic Dance" "a very

practical evening of romance."

"It’s a great idea, an experiment, but we’ve never tried this

before," he says. "You’ve got a reception and discussion with

the artists about the program. Then the ballet. Then you go out and

get some eats."

"Now the males have to take the initiative," he concludes

with the flair of a cheerleader. "They’ve got to do the right

thing and get out and get the tickets. Valentine’s is a big day. They’ve

got to get out there and do it. They can make one phone call and have

the whole evening taken care of."

— Nicole Plett

An Evening of Romantic Dance, Roxey Ballet, Villa

Victoria Theater, 376 West Upper Ferry Road at Route 29, Ewing, 609-397-7616,

ext. 807. Website: www.roxeyballet.com Concert only $25; pre-performance

reception and concert $55; concert followed by dinner $60; and $85

for the reception, performance and dinner. Saturday, February 15,

7 p.m.


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