By Jonathan Edmondson
Arts & Entertainment Editor
“Fix your hands!”
“Watch your toes!”
“You’re a monkey — act like one!”
These exclamations and many more can be heard ringing throughout the dance studio at the Mill Ballet School in Lambertville, N.J. every weekend. It’s where Mark Roxey, founder and artistic director of The Roxey Ballet Company, can be found giving notes to a slew of cast members, ranging from little girls in tutus to professional dancers soaring across the rehearsal space.
The company is currently in rehearsal for their spring production of “Mowgli: The Jungle Book Ballet.” The ballet, which features original music by Czech composer Milan Svoboda, has original choreography from Roxey.
The choreographer received the music from a friend years ago. He kept it aside until recently, when he decided to dust it off and see what he could make of it.
The original production of “Mowgli” was over three hours long. For Roxey’s purposes, he condensed the show into an hour-long, family-friendly production.
“The story begins with Mowgli as a young boy and we follow him as he grows older,” Roxey explained during a rehearsal of the production in the Lambertville studio.
Born in the jungle, Mowgli has to navigate life on his own. Along the way he encounters both friends and enemies, including snakes, wolf cubs and bees. As the ballet progresses, Mowgli gets the courage to fight his enemies and protect those he loves.
“The show is all about facing your fears and discovering who you are,” Roxey said.
The ballet features 65 dancers of all ages, ranging from amateurs to professionals. The performers were cast after an intensive audition, Roxey explained, and most of the cast trains at the Mill Ballet Studio or in the surrounding area.
Some highlights from the group include Young Mowgli, played by Julien Erickson, a boy full of wild energy and wide-eyed curiosity. During the rehearsal he bounced around the studio, interacting with dancers of all ages.
The cast also includes Tara Seymour as Bageera and Kristen Smith as Baloo. Both of the women are phenomenal dancers who are showcased throughout the ballet in featured numbers.
In addition to impressive choreography, Roxey focuses on making sure his dancers truly tell the story behind the ballet. The dancers send intensive time practicing facial expressions and theatrical gestures in addition to complicated dance moves.
Still, Roxey always likes to leave the audience in a little suspense, which he notes is where the fun lies in a whimsical ballet such as this one.
“There’s a lot of wit in having the audience not really sure what’s going to happen,” Roxey said, teasing the suspenseful ending to the ballet.
By the end of the rehearsal, the dancers were exhausted but happy, eager for an audience in the weeks to come.
During a round of notes, Roxey provided the company with constructive criticism to make the moves sharper and the facial expressions bigger.
The show, which is open to the public, will be presented with full costume, set and light design in Kendall Hall on Saturday, May 2, at 2 p.m.