Miami, Florida

Since 1997, the McKnight Foundation has funded annual fellowships for individual dancers as part of its system of support for Minnesota artists. The fellowships, $25,000 each, recognize three artists at mid-career and beyond whose work has exceptional merit and who have created a substantial body of work. The cash comes with virtually no strings attached.

Fellows are selected through an application process and vetted by a panel of five arts professionals.

Knowing that few dancers would decline the opportunity for a star turn, the foundation sweetened fellowships with a second component several years ago: funds for each fellow to commission a solo for him/herself from a choreographer of the fellow’s choosing.

The upsides for the community include a biennial opportunity to view and reflect upon its professional dancers in a solo context and to experience a variety of choreographers with whom one might be unfamiliar.

Premiere performances by the 2006 and 2007 McKnight dancer fellows opened to a sold-out audience July 11, running to July 13, at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis.

Many, including me, failed to call ahead for tickets and did not see the show, so here is my review:

Each of these performers is a credit to dance in America and merits our affectionate regard for high artistic achievement.

Mifa Ko, dancer
Prelude to a Swan

Music: The Protecting Veil by John Tavener. Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; Yo-Yo Ma, cello.

Costume Design: Jerry Opdenaker

Mifa was born in Tokyo, Japan, and trained at the Matsuyama Ballet School. She also has studied in Monaco at the Academie de la Danse Classic Princess Grace and in Moscow at the Bolshoi Ballet School. In the United States, Mifa has danced with the Boston Ballet, James Sewell Ballet, Minnesota Dance Theatre and, most recently, with Ballet Florida. She has performed as a guest in several ballets, including Romeo and Juliet, Giselle, Swan Lake, and The Nutcracker.

Jerry Opdenaker, choreographer, hails from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he graduated from the University of the Arts and danced with the Pennsylvania Ballet. He also performed as a soloist with the Kansas City Ballet, and with Ballet Florida from 1992 to 2006. He now leads Ballet Florida’s choreographic workshop. Jerry’s choreography has been presented by Ballet Florida, Ballet Builders in New York City, and by the New York City Ballet’s Choreographic Institute.

Laura Selle Virtucio, dancer
Can You Look Me in the Eye?

Original Score: Mio Morales

Video: Gregg Holtgrewe
Costume Design: Angie Vo

Laura began movement training as an athlete in her native Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She holds a BFA in Dance from the University of Minnesota (1999) and has enjoyed long performing relationships as a member of Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater (since 1999) and Shapiro & Smith Dance (since 2001). She recently joined Black Label Movement. Laura has served as an affiliate faculty member in the dance programs of the University of Minnesota and Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota, and received a 2007 Sage Award for best performer.

Colleen Thomas, choreographer, moved to New York from Miami 20 years ago. She has danced with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Bebe Miller Company, Nina Weiner Dance Company, Donald Bird/The Group, Kevin Wynn Collection, and others. She holds a BA degree in psychology and an MFA in dance. She serves as a principal of Bill Young/Colleen Thomas and Co., and is an assistant professor at Barnard College of Columbia University. Her choreography has been performed at numerous domestic and international venues.

Abdo Sayegh, dancer
Traces of After
Music: Follias 1700
Composer: Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713). Performance: Jordi Savall (Music CD)
Costume Design: Claire Brauch

Originally from Venezuela, Abdo trained with Ballet Nacional de Caracas Teresa Carreño School. Early in his career he performed with both of Venezuela’s leading companies: the Ballet Nacional de Caracas, under the direction of Vicente Nebrada, and Ballet Nuevo Mundo de Caracas, under the direction of Zhandra Rodriguez. He has danced with the Minnesota Dance Theatre for 14 years, becoming a full-time company member in 1998, and artistic associate in 2006. Abdo has performed as a guest for many companies in the United States and Venezuela.

Toronto-born Gioconda Barbuto, choreographer, danced with the Minnesota Dance Theatre, and for 16 years with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. She also has performed with Danse Théâtre de Montréal, Fortier Danse-Création, Margie Gillis, and Nederlands Dans Theater III. As an independent choreographer, Gioconda’s works have been performed by companies throughout Canada and the United States. She received the Clifford E. Lee Choreography Award in 1996.

Karla Grotting, dancer
Ajde
Vocal Performer: Natalie Nowytski.
Music: Slavic Soul Party. Sound Design: Cody Anderson.

Set Design: Dean Hawthorne.

Hoop Consultant: Risa Cohen

Rehearsal Directors: Joe Chvala, Peter O’Gorman

Karla is an original company member of Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum. She began performing with Zoe Sealy’s Minnesota Jazz Dance Company in the 1970s, and continued her career in New York City and Minnesota, including seven years with JAZZDANCE by Danny Buraczeski. She has performed a wide range of styles for many choreographers. Karla’s own choreography draws on her tap and jazz experiences. She received a BFA in Dance and a BA in Theatre Arts from the University of Minnesota, where she currently serves on faculty.

Max Pollak, choreographer, started his career in music and dance as a drummer in his native Austria. He moved to New York in 1991, and graduated from the New School University. He has taught and performed in Cuba for 10 years. He also teaches and performs with his group RumbaTap. Engagements have included venues in Germany, Austria, Lithuania, Greece, Japan, and the United States.


Tamara Nadel, dancer

Anandavarshini Ragam
Ragam (musical scale): Amritavarshini / Talam (rhythmic cycle): Adi

Musical Composition by L. Murphy, commissioned by Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy

Musical Arrangement by Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy

Padari Varuguthu
Ragam: Kambodhi / Talam: Roopakam

Musical Composition by Subbarama Iyer

Musicians: Lalit Subramaniam (vocal), Aparna Ramaswamy (nattuvangam/cymbals), Murali Balachandran (mridangam/south Indian drum), V.K. Raman (flute); recorded at Wild Sound, Minneapolis.

Tamara is a graduate of Macalester College, with a degree in Religious Studies and Dance. She has been performing and teaching with Ragamala Music and Dance Theater at domestic and international venues since 1994. A student of Bharatanatyam, the south Indian classical dance form, under Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy, Tamara gave her solo debut performance (arangetram) in 1998. She has received a Minnesota State Arts Board Career Opportunity Grant and a Jerome Foundation Travel Study Grant for travel to India.

Ranee Ramaswamy, choreographer, founded Ragamala Music and Dance Theater, and has been teaching and performing Bharatanatyam in the Twin Cities since 1978. She is a disciple of Alarmel Valli, the world’s leading exponent of Bharatanatyam. Ranee’s work has been supported by numerous fellowships and grants from the McKnight and Bush Foundations, the St. Paul Companies, Arts International, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Minnesota State Arts Board, The National Dance Project, and the Japan Foundation. In 2004, the Minneapolis Star Tribune named her one of the “Artists of the Year.”

Aparna Ramaswamy, choreographer, is a protégé of Alarmel Valli, and has been featured as a solo performer at prestigious domestic and international venues. She has been awarded fellowships from the McKnight and Bush Foundations, and grants from Arts and Religion in the Twin Cities, the Jerome Foundation, Arts International, the Lakshmi Vishwanathan Endowment Prize from Sri Krishna Gana Sabha (Chennai, India), and a Sage Award for Best Dancer. She graduated from Carleton College with a degree in International Relations and a concentration in Political Economy.

Colette Illarde, dancer
Volar
Music: “Rondeñas del Aguelo” by Juan Diego courtesy of Bujío Producciones.
Singer: Rachel Milloy.
Guitarist: Trevor May

Costume Design: Colette Illarde; created by Lola Almela, Madrid

Colette began ballet training in Chicago with Edward Parish and at the Boitsov School of Classical Ballet, and danced with the Joel Hall Jazz Dance company. In 1991, she discovered flamenco with Dame Libby Komaiko and danced for five years with the Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater. Since relocating to Minneapolis in 1996, she has performed with Rincon del Flamenco, Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre, Trio Flamenco, and Ballet Minnesota, and formed FUEGO Flamenco with guitarist Scott Mateo Davies. Colette has received grants from the Jerome Foundation, Minnesota State Arts Board, Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, St. Paul Companies, and COMPAS. She has served on the Cultural Advisory Committee of the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts and is the artistic liaison for the City of Minneapolis’s MOSAIC festival.

Manuel Reyes, choreographer, was born in Córdoba in 1974. He studied in Madrid at Amor De Dios, Ballet Nacional, and with Luis Fuente and Carmen Roche. He began performing with the National Ballet of Spain at age 10. He has toured the world and worked with José Granero, Joaquín Cortes, Antonio Canáles, Concha Velasco, Blanca del Rey, Merche Esmeralda, Belén Maya, and Rafaela Carrasco. Manuel’s choreography has been recognized by the Sociedad General De Autores. In 2007, he received the Certamen de Coreografia de Danza Espanola Y Flamenco.

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