Do you know a husband and wife who thoroughly enjoy living and working together, and have no qualms about being around each other 24/7? Probably not.
Then meet Douglas Martin, artistic director of the American Repertory Ballet, and Mary Barton, ARB ballet master and resident choreographer, who married in 1989. Many working spouses say they can be ships passing in the night (and that’s OK) but these two Lawrence Township residents say they miss each other when their schedules don’t coincide.
“In our first 11 years of marriage, we were together 24 hours a day, and we never had a problem,” Martin says. “In year 12, we were not with each other all day, and it was a very odd thing. Now we’re back to seeing each other more, and although we’re both very busy, there are several days we can go home together. Unlike other couples, we’ve never had an issue: we take our work home, discuss things, we don’t argue, and it works.”
“My policy is that, when you’re working as partner, someone has to be a little bit of the boss,” Barton says. “I don’t mind because I totally trust in Doug’s knowledge and technique. If there is a difference of opinion about a piece, I don’t get my bristles up. I know his will work and feel wonderful.”
Now in its 37th year, the ARB opens its 2011-’12 season on Saturday, October 22, at Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg, with world premieres by Barton, as well as Matthew Keefe, also a resident choreographer at ARB. In addition, the innovative program includes a revival of Kirk Peterson’s “The Eyes that Gently Touch,” danced to music by composer Philip Glass, performed live by pianist Jonathan Benjamin.
Barton and Keefe will appear on Thursday, October 13, at the Princeton Public Library, for “Inspiring Choreography,” an evening of dance and discussion, where the two resident choreographers will talk about their new ballets.
“It’s a way for us to reach out to the public, in other words, come on in and learn about dance, learn about the process,” Martin says. “In this case, it’s how Mary and Matthew conceived the works and what their creative process is like, since everybody’s is different.”
On Friday, October 14, at Princeton Ballet School, 301 North Harrison Street, ARB’s On Pointe Enrichment Series will present “Creating Choreography,” in which Barton and Keefe will discuss their choreographic process.
Keefe’s premiere work, “Fantasy for Violin, Piano and Ballet,” will be, in his words, “a dance in the classical tradition — with a wink.” Set to Franz Schubert’s “Fantasy for Violin and Piano in C,” Keefe has created an homage to famous ballet classics such as “Giselle” and “Swan Lake,” known for their precise corps de ballet work and classical white costumes. However, this work has a hint of humor woven throughout.
“Promises,” Barton’s new work, is set to music by violinist, composer, and music educator Kaila Flexor, from her album “Listen,” and blends the choreographer’s rich senses of narrative and neo-classicism.
“There isn’t a specific storyline, but I am hoping each section (of the work) creates a particular mood,” Barton says. “This is music that had been given to me by a friend a few years back, and I’ve been listening to it and thinking about it. The person who gave it to me said they could see me choreographing it. The music is a mix of folk and quirky cowbells and other sounds, all with a very youthful and fun feeling. Also, although this isn’t intentional, it evokes a 1920s ‘speakeasy’ feel to me. This won’t be literal — the costumes don’t reflect this — but sprinkled throughout the movements, there is a hearkening, an homage to that era.”
“This year, we have many wonderful new dancers, and I haven’t worked much with them before,” she continues. “Usually I like to do something dramatic and tell a mini story, but in order to do that, I need to know the dancers better. I thought now would be a good time to bring out this fun music, do something whimsical, and show off the dancers.
Growing up in San Jose, California, Martin was more of a jock than a dancer, talented at football and soccer. As he puts it, he was dragged to his sisters’ dance recitals, while his parents tried to get him interested in dance. His dad owned a car dealership, and his mom was a homemaker, but both loved the arts, Martin says. After he broke his leg playing football, Martin considered ballet as a way to rehabilitate and get back into sports.
“But, I woke up after my operation and the first thing I said was, ‘now I can start ballet,’” he says. “As soon as I got the cast off and was cleared, I started dance (at the San Jose Ballet School). Just three years later, I had a scholarship to the American Ballet Theater School. I got into Mikhail Baryshnikov’s first school, one of six guys and six girls.”
In 1984 he was invited to join the Joffrey Ballet where, as a principal dancer, he performed roles in ballets by George Balanchine, Robert Joffrey himself, and many other great 20th century choreographers. In fact, Martin was among the last dancers of the Joffrey Ballet to spend the majority of his career in the company working under its founder. Martin joined the Cleveland Ballet in 1991, and in 1993 was invited to join ARB. He continued to be a principal dancer in the company as well as ballet master for ARB and ARB Workshop, and principal faculty for the Princeton Ballet Summer Intensive, until his retirement from performing in 2002.
After retiring as a performer, Martin expanded his teaching, production, and choreographic work, and has been an integral part of the staff at Princeton Ballet School, Rutgers University, and Westminster Choir College.
The daughter of a Navy aviator (a captain), Barton was born in Singapore, and grew up in Guam and Thailand before settling in Washington, DC. Her mother was the daughter of a foreign-service diplomat, in fact, the American attache to Thailand, so both parents were well-traveled.
Long before computers could try to predict the movements of storms, Barton’s father was the leader of a team in Guam that flew into typhoons to track them. In a way, Barton was airborne herself, twirling around the room at a very young age. “I was always dancing around, taking my mom’s lingerie and whatnot, making these fanciful costumes, and one day my mom must have thought, ‘hmmm, she has an artistic streak,’” Barton says. “My dance studies started in Thailand, but that didn’t work out, and then I didn’t take any more until we lived in the States, when I was about 10. My mom looked in the phone book and found the Washington School of Ballet, the famous school founded by Mary Day.”
Barton’s professional experience began at Washington Ballet, dancing soloist and principal roles with the company while still a student. At age 18, she joined the Oldenburg Staat Ballet in Oldenburg, Germany, as principal guest artist, then returned to the United States to join the Dayton Ballet as principal dancer. In 1986 she joined the Joffrey Ballet, where she performed many of the company’s leading roles, including Clara in the world premiere of Joffrey’s new “Nutcracker.” While at the Joffrey, she performed a variety of roles in their extensive repertory, but she never danced with Martin, although he played her father in “Nutcracker.”
“Mary and I never got to dance together at the Joffrey,” Martin says. “I danced with the tallest women, and she danced with shorter guys. Then here at ARB, under Septime Webre, we did ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ and then we created a ton of work with the directors.”
Barton danced as a principal dancer with the ARB from 1993 to 2004, and has been on the faculty of the Princeton Ballet School since 1993. In addition to being one of the primary teachers of the school’s Summer Intensive, she is a member of the ballet faculty at the Lewis Center of the Arts at Princeton University, and in the musical theater program at Rider University.
In addition to their professional and marital compatibility, they seem to be made for each other when dancing. Barton says, as a girl, she’d watch beautiful pas de deux, and dream of that feeling of floating through the air on the arms of a partner. “That was the fantasy, but the reality is, sometimes a partner will squeeze you too hard in a lift, or something else that can be uncomfortable,” she says. “But with Douglas, it’s always been like flying, just really a joy. I am blessed to be in a partnership like this.”
“We belong together,” Martin says.
“Inspiring Choreography,” Thursday, October 13, 7 p.m., Princeton Public Library, Community Room. An evening of dance and discussion with resident choreographers Mary Barton and Matthew Keefe who will talk about their new ballets. 732-249-1254 or www.princetonlibrary.org.
On Pointe Enrichment Series, Friday, October 14, 5:15 p.m., Princeton Ballet School, 301 North Harrison Street. “Creating Choreography,” in which Barton and Keefe will discuss their choreographic process. 609-984-8400 or www.arballet.org.
“ARB Presents: Opening Night,” Saturday, October 22, 8 p.m., at Raritan Valley Community College, Route 28, North Branch. New works by Mary Barton and Matthew Keefe. $25 and $35. 908-725-3420 or www.rvccarts.edu.