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The Organization's Artistic History

The organization was founded by Audrée Estey in 1954 as the Princeton Ballet Society.  At the time, it was only a school -- Princeton Ballet School.

In 1963, Ms. Estey established the Princeton Regional Ballet Company. The company became the professional Princeton Ballet Company in 1978 and quickly grew into a vital company.

In 1982, upon Audrée Estey's retirement, Judith Leviton was named Director of Princeton Ballet, with Dermot Burke serving as Assistant Director, Ballet Master and Resident Choreographer.  In 1986, Burke was named Artistic Director of Princeton Ballet Company and Mary Pat Robertson was named School Director. Robertson served as Director of Princeton Ballet School until June 2016. During these years, inaugurated the Professional Training Program and PLUS programs, oversaw the moves into the school’s current Princeton and Cranbury locations and worked with faculty to create a syllabus. In 2007, the United States Congress cited Ms. Robertson for her 20 plus years of leadership of Princeton Ballet School, and for its evolution into “one of the most acclaimed (dance schools) in the country.”

In 1990, the company was renamed American Repertory Ballet, 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 the organization.

Marjorie Mussman served as Artistic Director of the Company in 1992 before Septime Webre was named to the position in 1993.  During Webre's tenure, he created many new works including a full-length Swan Lake, Where the Wild Things Are (in collaboration with author/illustrator Maurice Sendak) and Romeo & Juliet, which the company toured to Portugal.  From 1999-2010, the company was under the artistic direction of Graham Lustig, who created original works for the company including: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Silkscreens and Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker.

In May 2010, Douglas Martin was named Director of the Company.  A former principal dancer with the Joffrey Ballet, Mr. Martin brings a deep and rich history with American Repertory Ballet and Princeton Ballet School as a Company Dancer, Ballet Master (for ARB and the pre-professional division of the School) and beloved faculty member.   

About Founder Audrée Estey

Audrée Phipps Estey (founder and director of the Princeton Ballet Society) was born in Winnipeg, Canada and studied ballet with Madame Zink, who inspired in her a love of dance. After moving to Hollywood, California, in the late 1920’s, Estey became a member of the Ernest Belcher Ballet Company, where she studied and taught in his school. Ms. Estey danced classical ballet for Fanchon and Marco’s touring vaudeville company and was a contract actress-dancer-model for Fox Studios. In 1933, she married L. Wendell “Bud” Estey, a teacher at the Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.

After marrying, Estey moved to New Jersey and began teaching in the Princeton area. Her students included Meredith Monk, Douglas Dunn, Bebe Neuwirth, Diane Partington, and Jennifer Dunning. She founded Princeton Ballet Society in 1956 and the Princeton Regional Ballet Company in 1963. She served as president and executive vice president of the Northeast Regional Ballet Association from 1967 to 1971 and headed the dance department at Les Chalets Francais, a French camp for girls in Deer Isle, Maine.

In 1978, Estey turned the Princeton Regional Ballet into the professional Princeton Ballet Company (which was renamed the American Repertory Ballet in 1991). Estey retired as director in 1982 and moved to Florida, but she continued her involvement with the company as a consultant and advisor until her passing in 2002.


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