The thing about NJPAC is that it’s really stunning. For real.
Getting there might be a bit of adventure — it seems that if you approach the garage, which you must park in because you are not going to find on-street parking, because there isn’t any — from one side, it’s a total piece of cake. You drive right in.
If you come from the other side, you find yourself going around in circles, trying to figure out how to get there without overshooting but also without finding yourself in Jersey City. Or the Hudson.
If you’re like me, you have gotten to the garage on the wrong side, and you will emerge from the experience a bit frazzled. Not in the mood to be overwhelmed.
And then you walk into the building, and you are overwhelmed, by beauty and by light.
I was greeted by my friend Shira Vickar-Fox, the longtime New Jersey Jewish News managing editor who now has the most glorious job title I’ve ever heard; she’s NJPAC’s creative storyteller writer.
Shira watched my jaw drop as I took in the light streaming all over the building. It was a fabulously sunny day, which of course intensified the effect, but I could imagine what it would look like on a steel-gray day or on a harsh February afternoon. It still would be lovely.
We went upstairs, we walked through administrative areas, we peered backstage. It was all beautiful. And perhaps even more astonishing, everyone was nice. There seems to be a pervasive culture of decency and cheer there. It’s a neat trick; Shira tells me that it’s real, and that when she began to work there, she was astonished by it. She still is, she added.
Then we went into the main theater. It’s formal and beautiful, vast and very red.
A few hours later, we sat in a box on the first balcony, overlooking a room full of high school students, for an hourlong performance by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. It was exciting to watch the students come in; we could see them be moved by the grandeur of the theater. They were noisy — they’re kids, about to see a performance — but when the performance started, the noise stopped. (And as we could see from above, their phone screens blinked out and went dark too.)
The performance — a short version of Ailey’s “Revelations” — was stunning. The dancers were as intensely involved in their work as if it were nighttime and the audience were paying. The audience was rapt. The performance wasn’t too abstract or too adult or too old or too outside their frame of reference for them. They got it. That was palpable.
The NJPAC story is the story of how art works, when you take it seriously. (Which doesn’t mean that it can’t be lighthearted, or funny, or just plain silly.) It’s about how the relationship between art and the community can work, and can make both the art and the community better.
What is Jewish about this?
It’s all about the value of community, of making the world better through beauty, of combining intelligence and emotion and spirituality to ennoble performers and audiences alike. It’s deeply Jewish. —JP