Mark Morris is coming to town. His admirers, and they are legion, will say that’s all you need to know about the dance season. But not everyone lusts for that brand of contemporary dance. This season you can see dance as a colorful geography lesson or dance with a touch of vaudeville. You can focus on dance as a 19th century jeweled artifact — or dance that bubbles up from young choreographers, perhaps the next decade’s geniuses. Choose your theme and put together your own dance card.
Folkloric ensembles, those that tell about a country through its music, dance, and costumes, are a good pick for school-aged children and armchair travelers. A best bet is the Alborada Spanish Dance Theater, sponsored by the Arts Council of Princeton, at Princeton High on Thursday, October 16. “La Petenera: The Sephardic Connection” shows how the customs of 15th century Sephardic Jews left their mark on Spanish culture. These New Jersey performers dance their hearts out and pound out the rhythms of flamenco with the best of them, but they also craft a memorable educational experience.
Your family’s travel destinations can also include Latin America, on Saturday, October 11, at the State Theater, when Venezuela Viva reveals its classical and medieval Afro-Arabian roots, playing harps, maracas, bandolas, flamenco box, and drums. At the same venue in the spring, folk dancers from the Caucasus Mountains (formerly Russia, now Adyghea) perform on Friday and Saturday, April 17 and 18. Russian folk-dancing has the rock-’em sock-’em moments that keep kids agog, spliced with comic skits and splendid costumes.
Also sure bets for children of any age are the part dance, part sleight-of-body magic of Pilobolus (Thursday, November 6, at the State Theater) and Momix (Thursday and Friday, May 7 and 8, at McCarter). Children may try to execute pirouettes after seeing the Nutcracker ballet, but after Pilobolus they are likely to experiment with bed sheets to create their own conjuring tricks.
Very physical and edge-of-your-seat exciting will be Streb, the gravity-defying company of Elizabeth Streb, at the State Theater on Friday, February 6. Her “Extreme Action” dancers “soar through the air with the greatest of ease, those daring young folks on the flying trapeze,” as the song goes, but apparently they also collide with enough thunks and thumps to console football fans who need a helmet-crashing fix after the Super Bowl. Any of the three — Pilobolus, Momix, and Streb — can stimulate children’s imaginations and keep a spouse awake.
Two men who make music with their feet are in neither category. Savion Glover is at McCarter on Thursday, October 2. Yes, he is a tap dancer, and he entertains, but he is no ordinary vaudevillian-style tap dancer. Ordinary tap dancers don’t bring their shows to the Sadler’s Wells Theater in London. That’s where Glover goes after his McCarter’s gig. And when Jose Porcel presents his flamenco company at the State Theater on Saturday, October 25, the evening is likely to be more art than folklore. Porcel was born in the right place for a Spanish dancer, Seville, and he seems to have followed in the tradition of the legendary Jose Greco; he has a company, but he also performs solo with symphony orchestras.
Three cherished 19th-century story ballets, performed by troupes from Russia, will feed traditional appetites. On Saturday, January 17, McCarter presents its first ever “Giselle” — though it’s hard to believe that the Wilis (vampire ghosts of girls who were betrayed by their lovers) never hovered near the Dinky station before. The semi-comic “Cinderella” plays Friday, March 13, at the State Theater, and “Swan Lake” is Thursday, April 9, at McCarter.
Now for the adventurous, the new, the let-me-tell-you-about-the-world-as-I-see-it choreographers. The best bet ticket, no question, will be Mark Morris, on Tuesday, February 24, at McCarter. (As of press time, single tickets are still available.) February is distant, but a mini-Morris fix is available at a surprising venue: the Hagan Dance Studio of the Peter Lewis Center for the Arts, at 185 Nassau Street. One of his signature solos will be presented at a series of free Princeton University faculty concerts on Friday and Saturday, November 21 and 22.
Tina Fehlandt, a university faculty member who danced with Morris for 20 years, will perform a low-key offhand solo set to music by Erik Satie played onstage on a toy piano. Morris has never allowed another dancer to perform “Peccadillos,” described by British critic Lindsey Winship as a dreamlike-narrative, where “Morris subtly skips his way through highland flings, Cossack kicks, vaudeville tap, and the prim pout of the pantomime dame. And it all makes perfect sense.”
Also on the program, Yvonne Rainer’s “Seascape,” which harkens back to the rebellion of the Judson Dance Theater. Faculty member Patricia Hoffbauer, a former Rainer dancer, performs to an improvised “score” that consists of audience members, at microphones, randomly clearing their throats.
That’s the avant-garde of the past, but the future will also be on view, as danced by young faculty members. Rebecca Lazier, current department chair, will bring her Brooklyn-based nine-year-old company, Terrain, to perform “Terminal” at the faculty concert. Her score, by Gregory Spears, consists of snippets from Ravel’s “Bolero,” partly transmitted from tape recorders held by the dancers and at first sounding like a low drone. “About five minutes in, you realize that it is Bolero,” says Lazier. “It sounds like a waterfall of music. I love the idea that it engages memories, but there is something in front of it so it is just not that score.” The title, Lazier says, refers to the terminal as a place, “somewhere you pass through but don’t live through,” as well as for illness that, inevitably, will end, but at an unknown time.
Two of the best chances to see up-and-coming dancing are at surprising venues. The first is Sunday, October 5, at Grounds for Sculpture, in a concert that is free with admission to the park. Jamuna Dasi, artistic director of the Outlet Dance Project, presents new and emerging choreographers from the four-state area. The first half is indoors in a rather problematic space, but for the second half the audience troops from one sculpture scene to another. Take the family and arrive early to avoid a long line of cars waiting to buy tickets.
Graham Lustig, artistic director of American Repertory Ballet, will premiere an unusual collaborative work entitled “Worlds End,” based on “Writing at the End of the World” by Richard E. Miller, chair of the Rutgers English department. It has commissioned music by Rusty Banks, who teaches at Millersville University, which hosts the premiere on Friday, October 17, supported by a 100-voice choir and a trombone quartet. New Jersey audiences can see it on Saturday, October 18, at the Stevens Auditorium, Highland Park High School, as part of a gala fundraiser for Artists Now. Also on the program is Lustig’s “Vista,” to the music of the Lounge Lizards.
Twyla Tharp fans (and who isn’t?) look forward to seeing her “Sweet Fields,” danced by the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet on Tuesday, November 18, at McCarter. It’s well known that Tharp’s parents ran a drive-in movie theater and indulged their daughter with every possible lesson in stagecraft, but it is less well known that she had Quaker grandparents, and it is to this heritage that she refers. Clad in Norma Kamali white, the dancers move to Shaker hymns and celebrate what Tharp herself terms “Geometry as the key to Godliness.” Tobi Tobias, dance critic for the New Yorker 10 years ago, wrote, “Any choreographer, even one of Tharp’s remarkable talent and craft, might rank this dance, with its limpid message and construction, high among his achievements.” The troupe will also perform part of Tharp’s “Sinatra Suite” (as seen at McCarter last spring with the American Repertory Ballet), the Gerald Arpino classic, “Light Rain,” and Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo’s “1st Flash.”
Following a feast of Nutcracker ballets in December, Donald Byrd, choreographer of Broadway’s “The Color Purple,” will be the first national company to perform next year. Byrd’s Spectrum Dance Theater comes to Bristol Riverside Theater on Friday, January 9.
The big names in contemporary dance start at McCarter in February, led by Israel-based Batsheva Dance Company with choreography by Ohed Naharin on Monday, February 2. Here is the university influence again: Kibbutz-born Naharin is one of countless talented choreographers to dance in free concerts at what was then a loft-style space at 185 Nassau Street, and who returned later to dance at McCarter. Back in the ‘80s, Naharin showed his duet with a shopping cart, and the townie aficionados who saw it will never look at a shopping cart in the same way again. Critic Deborah Jowitt says that if you could hold one of Naharin’s dances in your hand, it would feel smooth. “Think of a polished stone. It looks like a piece of secret sculpture, but hurl it and it becomes a weapon.”
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, on Thursday, February 12 at McCarter, features repertory by Tharp, Naharin, and European choreographer Jiri Kylian. The Kylian strand — chains of swooping, undulating legato phrases — continues on Tuesday, April 21, with Nederlands Dans Theater II. That same week, on Friday, April 24, more European-style dances take the stage when Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet comes to the State Theater. Cedar Lake presents international choreographers who are not well known in the United States, perhaps because their esthetic doesn’t appeal to mainstream American critics. Featured is Angelin Preljocaj’s award-wining “L’Annonciation,” about the Virgin Mary’s encounter with an androgynous Archangel Gabriel.
That’s five choices in three months. You can’t go wrong with any of them, but for sure get to Mark Morris on Tuesday, February 24, at McCarter. Though the British-born critic from the New York Times, Alistair McCauley, has had the audacity to pronounce that every Mark Morris work might not be a masterpiece, Morris is often thought of as the successor to George Balanchine, in terms of dance genius.
American Repertory Ballet
Patriots Theater at the War Memorial, Trenton, 609-984-8400, www.arballet.org.
The Nutcracker. Production set in Vienna with Tchaikovsky’s sparkling score. $20 to $30. Friday, December 12. Also see McCarter Theater and State Theater.
Stevens Auditorium, Highland Park High School, Highland Park.
Worlds End and Worlds Begin. A collaborative work that draws upon the writings of Highland Park author Richard E. Miller, with choreography by Graham Lustig and Bat Abbit. $55, concert; $35, reception. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Saturday, October 18.
Arts Council of Princeton
Princeton High School Performing Arts Center, 151 Moore Street, Princeton, 609-924-8777, www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.
Alborada Spanish Dance Theater. “La Petenera: The Sephardic Connection” recreates the interaction of Spanish and Sephardic Jewish cultural traditions of 15th century Spain. $20 to $25. Thursday, October 16.
Grounds For Sculpture
18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton, 609-689-1089, www.groundsforsculpture.org.
The Outlet Dance Project. Showcase of emerging female choreographers incorporates the sculptural elements in the park. $10 includes park admission. Sunday, October 5.
91 University Place, 609-258-2787, www.mccarter.org.
Savion Glover. “Bare Sounds” presents tap as an acoustical vibration. $47 to $55. Thursday, October 2.
Aspen Sante Fe Ballet. Program includes works by Twyla Tharp. $35 to $44. Tuesday, November 18.
The Nutcracker. American Repertory Ballet and Princeton Ballet School present the Tchaikovsky holiday classic. $32.50 to $42.50. Through November 30, Saturday, November 22.
Lewis Center, 185 Nassau Street, 609-258-8560, www.princeton.edu.
Dance Faculty Performance. Choreography and/or performances by Ze’eva Cohen, Tina Fehlandt, Zvi Gotheiner, Dyane Harvey, Patricia Hoffbauer, Cherylyn Lavaguino, Rebecca Lazier, Mark Morris, Yvonne Rainer, Take Ueyama, and Terrain, a New York dance company. Free. Friday and Saturday, November 21 and 22.
Dance Performance Workshop. Choreography by Zvi Gotheiner, Cherylyn Lavaguino, Rebecca Lazier, Take Ueyama, and Edisa Weeks. Free. Wednesday, December 10.
Raritan Valley Community College
Route 28, North Branch, 908-725-3420, www.rvccarts.edu.
Great Russian Nutcracker. Moscow Ballet. $40 and $45. Sunday, December 7.
Sovereign Bank Arena
Hamilton Avenue at Route 129, 609-656-3222, www.comcasttix.com.
So You Think You Can Dance Tour. $35 to $54.50. Tuesday, October 28.
15 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-246-7469, www.StateTheatreNJ.org.
Venezuela Viva. Dance and music through Venezuelan history. $30 to $65. Friday and Saturday, October 10 and 11.
Compania Flamenco Jose Porcel. Flamenco and classical Spanish dance. $25 to $55. Saturday, October 25.
Pilobolus. Original works feature collaborative methods. $30 to $60. Thursday, November 6.
Sleeping Beauty. St. Petersburg Ice Ballet performs Tchaikovsky’s score. $25 to $55. Friday and Saturday, December 5 and 6.
Graham Lustig’s Nutcracker. American Repertory Ballet. $25 to $55. Saturday and Sunday, December 20 and 21.