American Repertory Ballet and Princeton Ballet School Added to the Princeton Historical Society Collection
Audée Estey, a native of Winnipeg, Canada, began teaching in the Princeton area after marrying L. Wendell "Bud"Estey, a teacher at the Lawrenceville School, in 1933. Among her hundreds of students were Meredith Monk, Douglas Dunn, Bebe Neuwirth, Diane Partington, and Jennifer Dunning. She founded Princeton Ballet Society in 1954 (now Princeton Ballet School) and the Princeton Regional Ballet Company in 1963.
Princeton Regional Ballet Company performed its first Nutcracker in 1964 at McCarter Theater in Princeton. The Company has been performing Nutcracker every year since, both at McCarter Theater in Princeton and at theaters across NJ. In 1968, Ms. Estey established "The Wednesday Program," in conjunction with the Princeton Board of Education, to provide dance education for students who might otherwise not be able to afford it. Company members often performed at Princeton Schools as a part of this program.
Estey turned the Princeton Regional Ballet into the professional Princeton Ballet Company in 1978. In 1990, the company was renamed American Repertory Ballet, (ARB) a name more clearly reflecting its artistic image and status as a nationally recognized ballet company, and in 1995-1996, the Garden State Ballet was merged into this organization. After Estey's retirement in 1982, Artistic Directors of the Company included: Judith Leviton (1982-1986), Dermot Burke (1986-1992), Marjorie Mussman (1992-1993), Septime Webre (1993-1999), Graham Lustig (1999-2010), and current Artistic Director Douglas Martin (2010-present).
While the Company was still under Estey's directorship in 1974, a pre-professional company, called Princeton Ballet II, was added as a level of the Princeton Ballet School. The School's Cranbury location also opened during this year. Its New Brunswick location opened in 1981. In 1986, Mary Pat Robertson was named School Director, and remains in this position.
In 1985, the Company began its DANCE POWER program in New Brunswick Public Schools - a program with a similar mission as Estey's "The Wednesday Program". DANCE POWER brings dance education to all 3rd grade students in the New Brunswick School District, and has recently expanded into 2nd grade classes, as well. Also in 1985, Princeton Ballet was granted status as an Organization with "Major Impact" by the NJ State Council on the Arts. In the late 1980's, Gregory Hines became DANCE POWER's Honorary Chairman, until his death, when his brother Maurice assumed the position. Mr. Hines established a DANCE POWER Scholarship at Rutgers University for a DANCE POWER student who continued dance studies until high school graduation, and matriculates into Rutgers.
The Historical Society of Princeton now has American Repertory Ballet and Princeton Ballet School archives available to the general public. They can be viewed by appointment only; contact the Historical Society at (609) 921-6748 x100 email@example.com. These archives include: photographs, including photos of Estey in the formative years of Princeton Ballet Society, of notable students such as Bebe Neuwirth, and of guest artists such as former New York City Ballet dancers Peter Martins and Darci Kistler; letters of support for the organization and personal letters to Estey; memoirs from dancers; performance playbills; press, such as NY Times articles; and marketing materials, including the first school brochure.
"We here at American Repertory Ballet and Princeton Ballet School are happy to share our documentation of our great impact on the Princeton area through the Historical Society of Princeton," say Lisa de Ravel, former ARB dancer and Princeton Ballet School Alumni Relations Coordinator and Dean of Students. De Ravel compiled the organizations historic documents and photos. "It has been a fun and challenging experience. I have gained a deeper respect for the legacy we inherited, and the artistic and educational missions we continue to carry out."