Who: Mary Barton, ballet instructor at Princeton Ballet School and Ballet Master and Resident Choreographer for American Repertory Ballet (ARB)
Background: Daughter of a Navy Captain, Barton took her first ballet class when her family was living in Thailand, then continued classes at a daycare when her family moved back to Virginia.
“My mother saw that I was serious,” Barton explains, “so she enrolled me in Washington Ballet School.” At 16, she was invited to perform with its affiliate professional company, Washington Ballet.
At 18, Barton landed a principal dancer contract with the Oldenburg Staatsballet in Germany, then returned to the US and joined Dayton Ballet, where she danced principal roles for three seasons. “I was feeling confident and decided I was going to go for something bigger. So, I left for NY…without any prospects!” After months of taking classes, and overcoming a painful, frustrating knee laceration, Barton had an opportunity to audition for Joffrey Ballet.
“I remember Mr. Joffrey said, ‘I really like you, but we have all the short dancers we need. I’ll keep you in my special file.’” Barton didn’t lose hope, and soon joined Joffrey Ballet II, where she rehearsed and performed with the company. In 1986, she was cast as Clara in Joffrey’s new Nutcracker.
“All of a sudden: a wig fitting, a photoshoot with Mr. Joffrey, an interview on the Charlie Rose Show… And then I was in Joffrey!”
After Joffrey Ballet, Barton danced for Cleveland Ballet. In 1993, she joined ARB and began teaching at Princeton Ballet School.
Pedagogy: Barton was a thoughtful dancer, making her an equally thoughtful teacher. “If I wasn’t rehearsing, I was observing rehearsal,” she explains. “I also spent time in the studio making up exercises to figure out what personally worked best. When I came to ARB, and there were teaching opportunities available, it was a natural transition for me.”
“I try to reach everyone differently in order to achieve the same technical result. I like to see how people think, and cater to that individuality.”
Gratifying Moments: “I treasure notes from students that thank me for things I helped them understand or accomplish…these little gems are so gratifying.”
“I was trained by great artists, and it’s wonderful to pass on that knowledge. Teaching young people dance opens their eyes to the arts. They develop poise and discipline. You can see the difference.”
Choreography: Barton has choreographed many pieces for Princeton Ballet School students and the School’s Summer Intensive. Since 2010, she has been ARB’s Resident Choreographer, and her work has received enthusiastic response and critical acclaim.
“As a child, I directed extravaganzas in the basement with the neighborhood kids, my mom’s clothes, and very dramatic music.” Barton’s work still carries dramatic weight, as it comes from emotional and narrative impulses that she finds within the music. “In music, I hear levels, emotion, and texture.”
Looking Forward: “I’m excited that ARB is going to be performing my work Straight Up With a Twist this August at Jacob’s Pillow!”
American Repertory Ballet. 732-249-1254. www.arballet.org.