Historic Collaboration between the New Jersey Ballet and the West Point Band

By SSG Philip Stehly
West Point Band

The West Point Band and New Jersey Ballet are a pair of world-class organizations that have been delighting audiences for years.

On March 17th, they will collaborate with the production “Ballet and the Band.” The performance will be held in Prudential Hall at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in downtown Newark. Lieutenant Colonel Jim Keene, the West Point Band’s Commander, will conduct.

Sergeant First Class Sam Kaestner, a clarinetist in the West Point Band, conceived this collaboration last spring while attending a concert at Lincoln Center.

“I came up with the idea for the New Jersey Ballet collaboration when my wife Kate and I were going to an opera at The Met. We were walking around Lincoln Center and looking at the posters for upcoming events at all of the various halls. Kate said that the City Ballet was doing Stars and Stripes,” said Kaestner. I had never heard of the ballet, so I went home and did a little reading about it. I found that Balanchine choreographed five Sousa marches and thought to myself that this was an opportunity waiting to happen. Doing the program with the West Point Band seemed to be a natural fit.”

Sgt. 1st Class Kaestner approached New Jersey Ballet about a possible performance.

“Last spring, we received a phone call from Sergeant First Class Kaestner, who asked if we would be interested in collaborating on a program with the West Point Concert Band,” said Nancy Hartmann, New Jersey Ballet’s Marketing Director. “The phone call was followed by a meeting and the rest is history.”

It’s also history in the making. This performance marks the first collaboration of these two renowned organizations.

“New Jersey Ballet has never before worked with a military band and the West Point Concert Band has never performed with a ballet company,” said Hartmann. “There is something very exciting about being part of an historic first time collaboration of this kind.”

As this is their first performance together, extra preparation is required from each ensemble. The West Point Concert Band is one of the finest wind ensembles in the world. But its performance with New Jersey Ballet presents some challenges for Lt. Col. Keene and the band. The main issue will be adjusting tempi so that the music and dancing are synchronized.

New Jersey Ballet had to figure some things out, too.

“The special challenge of this program comes from the fact that it is music-driven; we had to build the program around works with scores for concert band,” said Hartmann. “Fortunately, the two featured works, Jerome Robbins’ Interplay with music by Morton Gould and Edward Villella’s Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs with music by Leonard Bernstein, fit the bill exactly. “

Both iconic works are well-known to ballet audiences. Interplay will feature Staff Sergeant Yalin Chi on piano, while Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs will showcase Sgt. 1st Class Sam Kaestner on clarinet.

The ballet choreography for the rest of the program was commissioned specifically for this performance. The music includes selections from several pieces by John Phillip Sousa. While Sousa is best known for his marches—his nickname was “The March King,” after all—this performance will feature his symphonic music, including selections from his suites Dwellers of the Western World, Cubaland, and At the King’s Court. Other highlights include music from Malcolm Arnold’s Four Scottish Dances and Robert Russell Bennett’s Suite of Old American Dances.

The choreography for the commissioned ballets was done by Pedro Ruiz, Humberto Teixeira, and David Tamaki.

Each dance-maker boasts an impressive résumé.

Ruiz, a principal dancer with Ballet Hispanico for over 20 years, has been featured twice on PBS documentaries. Teixeira is a frequent guest with New Jersey Ballet. While relatively new to choreography, his ballet Tomoia was enthusiastically received when it premiered with New Jersey Ballet last season. Tamaki was a principal dancer with New Jersey Ballet before an injury sidelined him two years ago. He has since created works for student workshops and showcase performances. Now, he makes his debut as a professional choreographer.

Dancing and Sousa, ballet and band. It turns out New Jersey Ballet and the West Point Band are a great fit. Don’t miss what’s sure to be a stellar—and historic—production.

For more information, visit www.njballet.org.

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