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Minneapolis, Minnesota

With long and productive performing careers largely behind them, ballet dancers Amy Earnest and Lance Hardin now voice their contentment to inspire and prepare new generations of dance students for the stage. Since the late summer of 2012, their base of operations has been the Reif Dance Program, housed in the Myles Reif Performing Arts Center, in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

There, they teach and choreograph 18-20 ballet classes in a program that serves 200 students, aged three-to-adult, with a dance curriculum of 50 weekly offerings in fundamentals, ballet, jazz, modern, and tap. Though only in their 30s, the husband and wife duo have nearly three decades of teaching experience between them.

Lance Hardin & Amy Earnest Ballet Co-Directors in Grand Rapids MN

Lance Hardin & Amy Earnest
Ballet Co-Directors in Grand Rapids MN

Their own dance studies extend even longer. Earnest began dancing at age three in Atlanta. After studying with the School of Atlanta Ballet from age 11, she moved to Seattle at 18 to pursue professional development with the Pacific Northwest Ballet. She is certified both with the American Ballet Theatre National Training Curriculum and as a Pilates instructor. Hardin, a native of Chicago, began his dance training at age 11 at the Ruth Page Foundation School of Dance and, later, at the Academy of Houston Ballet. He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Ballet from Indiana University.

Earnest and Hardin both have performed principal roles from the Balanchine repertoire, as well as works by Paul Taylor, William Forsythe, Nacho Duato, and Alonzo King, among others.

In addition to Pacific Northwest Ballet, Earnest has performed with the Tulsa Ballet, North Carolina Dance Theatre, Hartford Ballet, and Chautauqua Ballet in venues as far afield as Portugal and Hong Kong. Hardin’s credits include the Milwaukee Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, North Carolina Dance Theatre, and Chautauqua Ballet. The couple met while dancing in North Carolina.

Both cite as highlights of their dance company experiences the few opportunities they had to work with choreographers – King, Duato, and Dwight Rhoden – as they created a new dance from nothing, as opposed to the more usual practice of having existing works “set” on them by repetiteurs.

Prior to moving to Minnesota, Earnest and Hardin owned and ran the Avant-Garde School of Dance in Centennial, Colorado, part of the Denver-Aurora metropolitan area. Grand Rapids was not unknown to them when they responded to the Reif Center’s national search for a director(s) of its ballet program; both had performed there on tour in 1998, and it looked like a good opportunity to make a difference.

Reif Dance serves 200 students aged 3 to adult

Reif Dance serves 200 students aged 3 to adult
with a program offering 50 classes weekly

Situated on the banks of the Mississippi River, near its Lake Itasca headwaters, Grand Rapids is home to 10,869 residents in a county of 45,000 people and 1,000 lakes. Located 175 miles north of Minneapolis-St. Paul, 80 miles northwest of Duluth, and 100 miles south of the Canadian border, the city’s largest employer is the Blandin Paper Company.

It was Myles Reif, a former general manager, plant manager, and president of Blandin, whose foresight and leadership prompted the creation of an arts center that would partner with its community; he did not live to see the January 1981 opening. Owned by Independent School District 318, the 645-seat Reif Center is operated by the Reif Arts Council. In fiscal 2011, the Center sold nearly 25,000 tickets to patrons, 40% of whom traveled more than 25 miles to attend performances of theater, dance, music, and popular entertainments.

David Marty, the Center’s president, enjoys a national reputation as a savvy and visionary leader who knows how to effectively connect artists and audiences in meaningful ways while balancing a budget of approximately $950,000.

In addition to its state-of-the-art theater, the Reif Center has three spacious dance studios with sprung floors (1,200 sq. feet, 1,800 sq. feet, and 2,250 sq. feet), private dressing rooms, and a newly refurbished observation room for parents.

Evidence of the dedication and investment of some of those parents in their children’s artistic development can be found in the distances they drive four and five times a week: 34 miles and 45 minutes one-way from Hibbing to the east, and 69 miles and 70 minutes one-way from Bemidji to the west.

Hardin says the number of boys enrolled in the dance program is pushing double digits and has prompted thoughts of offering a boys class beginning in the fall. The program also is looking for three instructors, in jazz, tap, and fundamentals.

Reif Dance presents three annual productions: The Nutcracker in December, the Reif Dance Company show by advanced students in March, and the spring dance theater show in June.

In November 2011, Reif Dance named James Sewell, artistic director of the James Sewell Ballet in Minneapolis, as its artistic advisor. The partnership includes regular workshops and performances in Grand Rapids by Sewell and his company, and regular visits by the Reif students to Minneapolis throughout the year.

The 645-seat Reif Center has three spacious, state-of-the-art dance studios

The 645-seat Reif Center has three spacious,
state-of-the-art dance studios

On April 13 and 14, 2013, 39 dancers from Grand Rapids joined members of the James Sewell Ballet and the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies to perform Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals” at The Cowles Center for Dance in Minneapolis. When the Sewell dancers take the stage at the Reif Center a week later, April 20, the Reif dancers will perform “Percussive,” a new work choreographed by Hardin to music by Peter Gabriel.

For its annual spring production, the Reif Dance Program will present “The Wizard of Oz,” June 7-9.

Then, rounding out their first year in Grand Rapids, Earnest and Hardin will be joined by Sewell dancers for the ballet-focused 2013 Summer Dance Intensive, July 29-August 17. The three-week intensive also will offer classes in contemporary styles, modern, jazz, tap, choreography, and Pilates, with a free, Summer Showcase performance on Saturday, August 17. A housing and meal package at Itasca Community College is available for out-of-town participants.

Earnest and Hardin say they enjoy the sense of community they have found in Grand Rapids, a place where they can know many people and be known for the work that they do in developing dance artists. They look forward to many days of sharing their experiences and helping to shape young dreams.


Minneapolis, Minnesota Updated: Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, 08:59am

A small, partial survey of Minnesota’s dance events during October makes clear that the state takes a back seat to no one when upholding its position as pillar of culture and civilization. Here are some of the many productions available from north to south this month.

University of Minnesota Duluth • Oct. 6

A residency by the Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theater at the University of Minnesota Duluth will culminate in a public performance at the Cesar Pelli-designed Weber Music Hall, 7:30pm, Saturday, Oct. 6. The Minneapolis-based company, which bills itself as “theater for the heart and mind,” will display its modern dance range and sensibility in solo, duet, and group works drawn from its repertoire.

The SPDT program will include “Tales From the Book of Longing,” conceived and directed by Stuart Pimsler and Suzanne Costello. Inspired by the poetry of Leonard Cohen, it received its premiere at the Guthrie Theater three years ago this month. Also on tap: “Islands,” Pimsler’s solo created in 1987 for the Contemporary Dance Theatre of Cincinnati, “The Men From the Boys,” a duet from 1988, and “Word Game,” a solo choreographed in 1968 by mentor Daniel Nagrin.

The Weber Music Hall is located at 1151 University Drive. Tickets, online, are $10 adults, $5 students, and free for UMD students. The Duluth News Tribune listed the performance as a “best bet” for the weekend in a preview article.

Another company from Minneapolis, Black Label Movement, has been conducting residency activities in Duluth since early September, working with Zeitgeist Arts and Stacie Luten’s Dance Center. The company’s evening-length “Wreck” will be performed in The Machine Shop of the Clyde Iron Works, 7:30pm, Tuesday and Wednesday, Oct. 9-10.

“Wreck” • Cylde Iron Works, Duluth • Oct. 9-10              Photo William Cameron

Choreographed by Carl Flink, a 2012 McKnight Artist Fellow, with original music by Mary Ellen Childs, “Wreck” was performed for the first time in January 2008 at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis. Flink, whose father was a crewman on a Great Lakes ore boat in the 1950s, has set the work “inside the last watertight compartment of a recently sunk ore boat resting on the bottom of Lake Superior.” An ensemble of five musicians will perform with the dancers.

The Clyde Iron Works is located at 2920 West Michigan. Tickets are $10 adults, $5 students. Reserve them by sending an email to

The Catalyst Series at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis will present the work of three women whose choreography has been commissioned in the past by the Momentum Series of the Walker Art Center and Southern Theater: Maia Maiden, Ellena Schoop, and Cathy Wright. Inspired by the Maya Angelou poem “Phenomenal Woman,” the program, “This Was Meant for Women’s Bodies,” will take the stage at 8pm, Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 11-14.

Cathy Wright • Intermedia Arts • Oct. 11-14                     Photo Crystal Liepa

Wright’s work also has been performed at the Bloomington Center for the Arts, Bryant-Lake Bowl, Patrick’s Cabaret, the Walker Art Center’s Choreographer’s Evening, and the Minnesota Fringe Festival. I saw it for the first time in 2009 at the Ritz Theater’s Renovate Choreographer’s Evening.

Next week, Wright will unveil three new dances: “Catherine Binds Wite Angels,” a performance art piece with angel wings, chardonnay, acrylic painting, and song; “Accepting Mother’s Nature, part 1,” displaying her gothic aesthetic in response to questions posed by Maiden’s work about body as culture; and “Encompassed,” a dance and film on media perpetuation of the female body, created and performed with Maiden.

Intermedia Arts is located at 2822 Lyndale Avenue South. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door; available online or by phone at 612.871.4444.

The Minnesota Dance Theatre will present the second weekend of its fall performances at The Cowles Center for Dance in Minneapolis, Friday through Sunday, Oct. 12-14. Based on a classic Grimm’s fairy tale, the program, “The Enchantment: 12 Dancing Princesses,” features choreography by Lise Houlton. Music by Leos Janácek and Tim Linker will be performed by a strings and piano quintet. The Cowles Center is located at 516 Hennepin Avenue. Tickets are $26-$30, $20 students; available online or by phone at 612.206.3600.

Ritz Theater • Oct. 18-28

The Ballet of the Dolls will present “The Peruvian Nightingale,” a re-telling of a Hans Christian Andersen tale about learning the difference between real love and infatuation, Oct. 18-28, at the Ritz Theater. The Ritz is located at 345 – 13th Avenue NE in Minneapolis. Tickets available online or by phone at 612.436.1129.

In Duluth, the Minnesota Ballet will reprise its 2011 production of “Dracula,” at 7pm, Friday and Saturday, Oct. 19-20, at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center. The work “follows the grand tradition of Bram Stoker’s Gothic tale of compulsion, suspense, seduction, and love.”

“Dracula” • Oct. 19-20 • Photo Jeff Frey and Associates

The DECC is located at 350 Harbor Drive. Tickets are $10-$42. In a “Blood Drive for Dracula,” one can donate blood to the Memorial Blood Centers and receive a voucher for buy-one, get-one free tickets. Call the Minnesota Ballet for more information, 218.529.3742.

Works of Edgar Allan Poe will animate James Sewell Ballet’s fall performances at The Cowles Center in Minneapolis, Oct. 26-Nov. 4. The fall program also will be presented at the University of Minnesota Morris, Oct. 19.

For other performance offerings, check out DanceMNThe O’ShaughnessyOrdwayWalker Art Center, Northrop Dance SeriesSouthern TheaterRed Eye Theater, and The Lab Theater, among many others.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The poetry and short stories of Edgar Allan Poe, a literary icon of American Romanticism, provide the grist for James Sewell’s choreographic mill and his company’s new ballet, “Takes On Poe.” James Sewell Ballet will present the new work as part of a dance macabre-themed fall program at The Cowles Center for Dance in Minneapolis, Oct. 26-Nov. 4.

James Sewell Ballet • Oct. 26-Nov. 4

For “Takes On Poe,” Sewell draws animation from Poe’s poems “The Raven,” “Annabel Lee,” and “The Bells,” and the short stories “The Tell Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado,” all published in the 1840s.

Born in Boston in 1809, Poe grew up in Richmond, Virginia, and gained renown as author, poet, editor, and literary critic before his death in Baltimore in 1849. He has been tagged as the “inventor of the modern detective story.”

The fall program also will include the classical “Giselle Pas De Deux,” and the revival of Sewell’s “Grave Matters” (2011). Kathy Staszak designed costumes and Kevin A. Jones designed lighting for the program.

“An Autumn Scare,” a 60-minute matinee for families, Saturday, Oct. 27, will feature excerpts from the fall program and a costume parade across the stage for young audience members “as they are or will be” for Halloween.

Tickets are available on-line at, and by phone at 612.206.3600.

James Sewell Ballet’s fall season follows on its performance, Oct. 12, at the Tuacahn Center for the Arts in St. George, Utah.

Updated: Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, 09:03am: The company’s fall program also will be presented at Edson Auditorium, University of Minnesota Morris, 7:30pm, Friday, Oct. 19. For tickets call 320.589.6077. A ballet master class, free and open to the public, will be offered in the Humanities Fine Arts building, Thursday, Oct. 18, 4pm-5:30pm.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Last week, the Twin Cities hosted three dozen curators and presenters of dance hailing from domestic and international venues. These visitors attended showcase performances presented over five days by 50 contemporary dance makers and organizations based in this community.

One of those visitors, from New York City, works at bringing presenters from European venues to the U.S. to expose them to new or updated perspectives about the currents in dance on these shores. We spoke following three showcase presentations at the University of Minnesota’s Barbara Barker Center for Dance on Friday afternoon.

She observed that many of the conceptual modern dance works she had viewed during two days here – works based in Western styles and traditions and created by different choreographers – shared a distinct and apparently hermetic sameness. “I want to ask them,” she said, “what it is you think you are trying to communicate to me?” She added that it would be nice to send choreographers on the road across the country for a year just for the sake of their exposure to and challenge by other choreography.

I concurred with her comments about the similarities and, without conclusion, we speculated about the reasons for this seeming lack of diversity, and attributed some of it to the influence of the University of Minnesota’s Dance Program and the many dancers and choreographers it has trained to common purposes and loosed upon the community over the years. The visitor also wondered if the strong, close-knit dynamics of the old Minnesota Independent Choreographers Alliance might yet retain influence among dance makers and pick-up companies in the Twin Cities.

That conversation bore vestiges of another I had two weeks earlier with an accomplished, longtime choreographer and dance instructor. How, I asked, would she describe to a neophyte the differences between modern dance and jazz dance? Between modern and ballet? Between modern and post-modern?

Interestingly, none of her proffered descriptions cited splayed fingers, pointed feet, legs turned out or in, bent knees, or any other physical manifestations that would suggest visual images that one could use to make comparisons. It occurred to me as we talked that if the collective we have difficulty describing what we do by what it looks like, then we probably aren’t communicating all that well, verbally or through movement, about our esoteric choreographic intents.

“Huddle” • Jacob Melczer, Gabriel Anderson, John Beasant, Timmy Wagner • Dan Norman Photography

Whether or not they can explain why, most dance makers think they want and need an audience. Those who do not care if their work can be described want their audience to make of it whatever they will. Then, when audience members make little or nothing of it and return rarely, if at all, there is genuine perplexity about why. Sometimes, dance makers even blame the audience. I have mused about this for years.

My musings received fresh life following a recent visit to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for its “Rembrandt in America” exhibit. The galleries were jammed elbow-to-elbow with an age, gender, and ethnic diversity that would do any outreach worker proud. People moved in an improvised dance more engrossing than many I have seen on stage. More than 105,000 tickets were issued during the run. Exhibit hours were extended for weeks on end. How many dance venues can claim such demand for an entire season let alone one show?

Were all 105,000 attendees experts about art, Dutch painting, and Rembrandt in particular? Did they know on arrival that some of these works were pretty good copies made by students? Assume that they were expert. Why then were so many led around by docents or by self-guided headphone tours? Why did so few fail to read the placard information on the walls? If the information, in whatever form, detracted from the quality of their experience, then why did they avail themselves of it? Did having the information make them unhappy, unappreciative, and less likely to return in the future?

The concept of differentiation, and the notion of describing, explaining, and analyzing it, is not foreign to Mathew Janczewski, a graduate who bounded out of the University of Minnesota to dance with the companies of Shapiro and Smith Dance and Danny Buraczeski’s Jazzdance before-and-while founding ARENA Dances as a vehicle for his own modern dance choreography.

“These Yellow Sands” • Dan Norman Photography

For 17 years, Janczewski has given account of himself and garnered invitations to teach and choreograph for colleges, universities, and other dance companies, commissions to create new works, and resources to create a body of work with – of late – a relatively consistent ensemble of dancers, most of them alums of the University of Minnesota or St. Olaf College. He has assembled a small but effective board of directors and a roster of nearly 70 individual annual donors.

His artist statement acknowledges a responsibility to his audience: “A central challenge in contemporary dance is the degree to which it has become rarefied and dislocated from the culture in which it exists. … I am deeply concerned with making my work relevant to the public that I am addressing.” One can laud his awareness and commitment while considering the degree of his success in meeting that challenge as he developed a signature movement style.

Janczewski always has used the big, broad and dramatic gesture to convey a range of abstract narratives and evoke honest, heart-on his-sleeve emotions. For example, if you are not seeing dancers move with contained torsos in bold, full-throated and circular patterns with high energy in the air and on the floor, with a straight leg extended every 10 seconds, and vertical leaps – often of trios that pop-stop for milliseconds at the top – every 30 seconds, you might question whether you are viewing ARENA Dances.

In a welcome evolution in recent years, he has added texture to his vocabulary and phrasing with smaller, more layered and nuanced movements. This evolution was evident in the program presented at the Cowles Center for Dance in Minneapolis this past weekend, where Saturday’s performance began five minutes late, following a three minute delay and two minutes of announcements.

For all five dances, Pearl Rea designed lighting and Sonya Berlovitz designed costumes.

Susie Bracken • “Les Petites Choses”

“Huddle,” a 17-minute dance that received its premiere in 2009, opens upon four men, Gabriel Anderson, John Beasant III, Jacob Melczer, and Timmy Wagner, distributed across the stage, barefoot and otherwise attired in variations of business office drag. Three of them occupy their individual real estate, four feet square, outlined by 2″x4″ lengths of lumber. In short order, they add their lumber to an edifice of 2″x4″s, stacked 11 high up-stage-right, that becomes their island fort, tree house, man cave, and the locus of their bonding.

The dance, accompanied by music of Radiohead and 65daysof static, follows these men-children as they sort out who is part of the group, and on what terms, at any given moment. Melczer and Wagner, both  second season members of ARENA, carried most of the duet work.

The late-arriving couple that was seated at the right side of the orchestra a few minutes into the work would not have caused a distracting commotion had they been held outside for 15 additional minutes.

“Judged House,” first presented in 1995 and danced with music by the British composer Michael Nyman, begins with dancers down on the floor, and they stay or return there for much of the 11-minute piece. One imagines that their movements while on the floor, if viewed from above, would look like they were dancing upright and on their feet. Whether standing or not, Renee Starr and Sarah Steichen, both in their third season with ARENA, repeatedly pushed against each other in a rivalry that, to my eye, never resolved who wins.

There is a segment of total silence during “Judged House” when the music stops. A possibly very important man – whether lost audience member or clueless theater employee – chose that moment to noisily enter the house through a door not normally used by the public on the left side of the orchestra. After looking around, he exited at the back with accompanying noise. So far as one knows, he was not an armed and psychotic graduate student.

Audience members who spoke French, seated somewhere in front of me, chuckled as the curtain rose on “Les Petites Choses,” the new, centerpiece work of the evening. As something of a protagonist, Susie Bracken, dancing with ARENA again after eight years in Los Angeles, cut a captivating figure in lime green bra, green tights, green heeled shoes, formal blue gloves, and canary yellow plastic bags. Music by Clint Mansell, Fridge, and (primarily) Katerine provided a club sensibility for a nicely detailed romp by Melczer, Starr, Steichen, and Wagner, replete with vacuous facial expressions.

Mathew Janczewski • ARENA Dances

More than most of Janczewski’s dancers over the years, Bracken infuses her own personality fully into his choreography. In this, she has competition from Wagner who also finds the fusion; as the man in front of me said, “He looks good in this work.” The last segment of “Les Petites Choses,” dominated by Bracken in turquoise skirt and short red jersey, ends on a soft high, reflecting the liquid, languid air of an adagio, danced to cello and violin.

Quelle petite pierre précieuse!

As one result of Janczewski’s diligence over the years, the National Dance Project, managed by the New England Foundation for the Arts, has awarded ARENA Dances a production grant worth thousands of dollars to create “The Main Street Project,” a major dance that will premiere in the fall of 2014. For this concert, Janczewski presented a very brief teaser to whet the audience’s appetite. Wagner performed solo next to a pile of crumpled paper while our attention was drawn to three students who voiced statements to the camera in a video produced by Cully Gallagher.

For the program closer, “These Yellow Sands,” set to music again by Nyman, Janczewski re-worked a 2001 commission from the Walker Art Center’s Momentum Dance Works series. The dancers, Anderson, Beasant, Melczer, Starr, Steichen, and Wagner, acquitted themselves admirably in what was largely a pure movement work.

The same cannot be said for the Cowles Center’s production crew. About 60 seconds into “Yellow Sands,” a large square projection of solid blue color with the words “Power Off” flashed on the back curtain above the dancers. This technical glitch from the preceding video was inexcusable. It marred the final work and wrecked one’s impression of the entire evening.

One might ignore it as an isolated mess-up. However, not six months ago, the retrospective video that was part of the 25th anniversary performances of Shapiro and Smith Dance did not play on cue on opening night. Artistic Director Joanie Smith had to exit the stage to sort out with the crew what presumably had been covered in the dress rehearsal. Another isolated mess-up? Possibly.

The Cowles Center, continuing its opening shakedown cruise into a second season, was intended to avoid these kinds of junior high school AV club screw-ups. What is concerning is that these incidents may reflect a culture of indifference on the part of the theater’s production personnel.

According to a contemporaneous account by a dancer, just before five members of the Zenon Dance Company took the stage on their opening night last spring, a member of the technical crew bluntly told them he did not like dance in general. “You watch it for a minute,” he reportedly said, “and you kind of ‘get it,’ and then it’s just boring. So you can move like that. So what?”

How inspiring and supportive. Clearly, the dude is making what he will of the dance work that he sees and that pays his bills. But.

Our town is small. People talk. If we are to believe just a portion of what we hear, then that comment and the attitude behind it has been voiced on several unguarded occasions by Cowles production personnel. Before a reputation for technical indifference and mediocrity becomes cemented at this new venue, such comments and attitudes need to be kicked in the backside.

Most performers and outside technical people who must rely on the goodwill of these inside folks are reluctant to speak up. Here then, for them, is a message to the Cowles Center production staff:

You are compensated more per hour and per annum than most of the performers on your stage. They are the reason for your employment. Their work is more than just a job; it is their calling and their cause, and it must be yours also. This community did not spend 12 years and $50 million building this facility so that your cavalier attitudes and negligent behaviors could drag down an art form that is raising itself up.

If you cannot get behind that program with enthusiasm, and initiate your learning about what you don’t know, then get the hell out of Dodge. Otherwise, the folks at the Ritz, Southern, Red Eye, and O’Shaughnessy venues will happily take those boring, bothersome dance artists off your hands, and the ticket buyers and donors that come with them.

Duluth, Minnesota

In spite of $100,000 in damage visited upon its sets and backdrops by torrential flash flooding, June 19-20, the intrepid Minnesota Ballet has begun preparing its 2012-2013 performance season.

Minnesota Ballet’s “Dracula” • Oct. 19-20

Donning costumes from last year’s well-received, premiere production of “Dracula,” six of the company’s dozen dancers traveled by float along Tower Street in Superior, Wisconsin, Sept. 2, as part of the Duluth-Superior Pride parade. Their sun-drenched outing promoted the return of “Dracula” for their season opener at the DECC Entertainment and Convention Center, Oct. 19-20.

In the week leading to Labor Day weekend, the dancers worked with the choreographer Penelope Freeh, who traveled from Minneapolis to set a new dance on them. The Ballet will unveil that work, along with new creations by the dancers, at evenings of “Dances and Desserts” at the Board of Trade Building, Sept. 20-21.

Freeh, who has had a long association with the James Sewell Ballet, will present performances of her work at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis, Sept. 28-30, with the composer Jocelyn Hagen.

The Minnesota Ballet, led by Artistic Director Robert Gardner since 2007, will offer free sample classes for its school, 10am-1:30pm, Saturday, Sept. 8. Children, teens, and adults are welcome to check out classes in creative movement, ballet, jazz, tap, and modern at 506 West Michigan Street, Duluth.

Dancers in photo l-r: Marco Clemente, Emily Neale, Alana Gergerich, Megan Wolfson,Reinhard von Rabenau, Michael Agudelo

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Ananya Dance Theatre will open the Twin Cities’ fall dance season with four performances of “Moreechika: Season of Mirage” at the Southern Theater, Sept. 6-9.

Sherie Apungu & Ananya Chatterjea • “Moreechika”
National Academy for the Performing Arts
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Photo: Maria Nunes Photography © 2012

Choreographed by Ananya Chatterjea to an original score by the composer Greg Schutte of St. Paul, “Moreechika” received its world premiere, July 27, at the National Academy for the Performing Arts in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, as part of the New Waves! 2012 Festival.

The theme of the evening-length work is oil and the environmental, cultural, and human costs of its extraction around the world, particularly its impact on women in global communities of color.

Annie Katsura Rollins designed the costumes and giant shadow puppets used in “Moreechika.” Mike Wangen designed the stage lighting. The work runs 85 minutes without intermission.

“Moreechika” is the third in a four-part, multi-year investigation into systemic violence, trauma, resistance, and empowerment. The quartet employs the thematic elements of mud (“Kshoy!/Decay!” 2010), gold (“Tushaanal: Fires of Dry Grass” 2011), oil (“Moreechika: Season of Mirage” 2012), and water (“Mohona: Estuaries of Desire” 2013).

Following the Minneapolis performances, the troupe will present “Moreechika” at The Conwell Dance Theater in Philadelphia, Oct. 5-6, as part of a residency sponsored by The Boyer College of Music and Dance at Temple University.

Chitra Vairavan & Sherie Apungu • “Moreechika”
National Academy for the Performing Arts
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Photo: Maria Nunes Photography © 2012

Chatterjea and her company members drew their creative inspiration  from several sources, including the struggles of Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian activist.

“Saro-Wiwa,” Chatterjea said, “addressed the injustices done by Shell Oil to the Ogoni people and the destruction of their land and ecosystem, for which he was tried and hanged by a military tribunal.”

The perspectives and struggles of the U’wa community of Colombia also informed the work.

“This community is stunned by the excessive consumption of oil by our world,” Chatterjea said. “They think of oil as ruiria, blood of the earth, which must be respected as part of the natural world.”

Chatterjea also drew inspiration from the responses of the indigenous Kichwa women of Ecuador to Chevron Oil, and from the current struggle in North America against the Keystone XL Pipeline through Native American lands.

Ananya Dance Theatre is a company of women artists of color working at the intersection of social justice and artistic excellence to tell the stories of ordinary lives and extraordinary dreams with an emotional intensity and physical prowess that draws upon the company’s choreographic aesthetic and technique.

“Moreechika: Season of Mirage”
Ananya Dance Theatre
Southern Theater, Minneapolis, Sept. 6-9, 2012
Conwell Dance Theater, Philadelphia, Oct. 5-6, 2012
Photo: © 2012

Chatterjea’s aesthetic integrates the sculptural sensuality, powerful footwork, and emotional articulation of Odissi, a classical Indian dance form, with the pure lines and breath release of yoga and the bodily awareness of energy from the martial art of Chhau.

Chatterjea, a recipient of a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship for Choreography and a 2012 McKnight Artist Fellowship for choreography, serves as a professor and Director of Dance in the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance at the University of Minnesota.

Minneapolis performances of “Moreechika” are scheduled for Thu. and Sun., Sept. 6 and 9, at 7:30pm, and Fri. and Sat., Sept. 7 and 8, at 8pm. The Southern Theater is located in the Seven Corners District of Minneapolis at 1420 Washington Avenue South. General admission tickets are available through TicketWorks at 612.343.3390, or online at

Philadelphia performances are scheduled for Fri. and Sat., Oct. 5 and 6, at 7:30pm. The Conwell Dance Theater is located at 1801 North Broad Street. General admission tickets are available by calling 215.204.1122.

More articles about “Moreechika”:

Gary Peterson serves as chair, board of directors, of Ananya Dance Theatre.

Minneapolis, Minnesota Updated 10/19/2012 – 11:27pm CDT

Someday, scholars pursuing graduate degrees at the University of Minnesota will write the definitive histories of Minnesota’s and the Twin Cities’ performing arts scenes. Significant portions of their research will draw heavily upon records generated over the past 50 years by members of a remarkable family of artists.

Many of the artistic heirs of that family’s influence reunited in Minneapolis’ Lowry Hill neighborhood, May 5, for an evening of mellow memories and music. Approximately 100 grandparents, parents, and toddlers gathered in the soon-to-be-former family home of the Nancy Hauser Dance Company and School, overlooking the intersection of Franklin and Hennepin avenues from the upper floors at 1940 Hennepin.

For Minnesotans who came of age in the 1960s and 70s, the Hauser company and school occupied one of the central artistic positions in the zeitgeist that produced housing coops, anti-Vietnam war protests, and the worker-owned coop movement. In those days, we knew that ballet was something that came from Communist Russia when Ed Sullivan featured it on his Sunday night variety show on CBS television. What little we knew of modern dance emanated from the doings of Hauser and her colleagues at the Guild of Performing Arts, a music and dance school with a small theater and art gallery centered in the bohemian enclave of Minneapolis’ West Bank. The area was known for a time as the Haight-Ashbury of the Midwest.

While Hauser’s work flowed from the Mary Wigman and Hanya Holm traditions of modern dance, the remarkable story of her company is that of its service as the crucible from which the elements of contemporary dance in Minnesota exploded and continue to differentiate themselves, 51 years after its founding in 1961.

As fashions and generations changed, it was perhaps inevitable that present-day dance afficionados have little or no knowledge and appreciation of the statewide, domestic, and international touring the company accomplished, nor of the far-reaching contributions made by its students, performers, and choreographers.

A small list of Hauser alums includes the choreographer Ralph Lemon; Lisa Naugle, the chair of dance at the University of California-Irvine; the choreographer and artistic director Gary Lund, whose work has been presented throughout Europe and at New York’s Joyce Theater and Dance Theater Workshop; Sara Pearson, a professor at the University of Maryland; Stephen Koester, a professor at the University of Utah; and Nancy Evans Doede, director of the Nancy Evans Dance Theatre in Los Angeles. Artists from the milieu who remain active in the Twin Cities include Gerry Girouard, Derek Phillips, Pam Gleason, Susana di Palma, Laurie Van Wieren, and Jane Peck, among many others.

The artistic talents and interests of the Hauser family exceed the dance pursuits of Nancy and her daughter, Heidi Hauser Jasmin. They include the sculpture and visual art of Alonzo Hauser, who founded the Art Department at Macalester College in 1945, and the classical and flamenco guitar virtuosity of sons Tony and Michael.

My first close crossing of paths with the Hauser company and family occurred in 1986. To help establish a new purpose for itself following the opening of the Ordway Center for Performing Arts in January that year, The O’Shaughnessy, a 1,700 seat auditorium on the campus of St. Catherine University in St. Paul, created the O’Shaughnessy Dance Series, featuring six or eight Twin Cities dance companies during the spring months. I attended rehearsals and performances of those companies, including Hauser, and wrote reviews for my radio program on KFAI. Pam Gleason, who organized last week’s reunion, was a performer in my review.

In addition to a bountiful, pot-luck spread of food, a quintet, the Aurora Club Jazz Jam Live, provided music – kicking off with “Days of Wine and Roses” – while those touched forever by Hauser Dance took to the dance floor with each other or themselves to recall where they learned to love dance, some recreating favored roles from days past.

Jasmin announced that, since she stopped teaching last October, she and her husband, Paul Jasmin, have been organizing and archiving the company’s 51 years of history, disposing of props and costumes, and preparing to end the 501(c)(3) status at the end of August. The archival documents will be turned over to the Performing Arts Archives at the University of Minnesota.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

A poster hangs in a stairwell of my house for the first performances by the Zenon Dance Company, presented in a studio setting at the Hennepin Center for the Arts, April 6-8, 1983. Preview performances were held a week earlier, March 30-31, at the Edina Community Center.

The occasion represented a leap of faith for the dancers and their artistic director, Linda Andrews, as they assumed the trappings of a professional ensemble, replacing their previous status as advanced students with the pre-professional Rezone [modern] and Just Jazz companies fielded by the Ozone Dance School.

Leslie O’Neill & Scott Mettille, rock stars in Zenon’s shining galaxy

The new, professional Zenon was viewed by many as an impertinent upstart, and its debut program offered what most observers at the time, and for some years afterward, considered to be an improbable and unworkable mix of modern and jazz dance choreography. The opening bill featured works by Hannah Kahn, Charlie Vernon, Lewis Whitlock, Linda Shapiro, Wil Swanson, Lynn Simonson, and Anne Gunderson.

The notion that dancers could cross-train to perform many styles of modern dance, as well as jazz dance, was considered to be something of a joke by many local and national gatekeepers who served on the staffs and granting panels of service organizations, foundations, government agencies, and the media. It took many performance seasons and grant-making rounds to convince them to open their minds, trust their eyes, and lend their support.

After 29 years, many of those original pooh-bahs consider Zenon to be Minnesota’s artistic leader in dance and a competent competitor as a national innovator.

After 29 years, the Hennepin Center for the Arts is known as the “education wing” of The Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts, and is connected to the new, 500-seat Goodale Theater, the first venue in Minnesota built specifically to serve the presentation needs of concert dance.

After 29 years, Zenon’s program lineup remains an eclectic mix of the modern, the jazz, the cerebral, the entertaining, the dynamic, the bizarre, and the right-on. It is one of three companies (the James Sewell Ballet and Ballet of the Dolls are the others) that can draw an audience of respectable size for two weekends of performances twice a year.

Also after 29 years, Twin Cities dance artists retain a pathological need to label, rate, and categorize each other, their work, and venues. In that, they could save themselves much drama and misspent energy. As observed by the dance writer Lightsey Dharst, many modern dance companies in the Twin Cities “share dancers, and all rely to some extent on those dancers to generate movement, which means that you get to see the same great moves in concert after concert.”

Zenon’s commissions of work from a variety of choreographers – many from afar and who are not one of us – mitigate the effects of this dynamic. This is particularly true of the standing tall program presented for the company’s 29th spring season that opened May 4 at the Cowles Center, and runs through May 13. The program shines with a brilliance that should not be missed.

The world premiere of “Wine Dark Sea,” reflecting on the connection of humans to ocean and choreographed in a modern dance style by Minnesota’s Wynn Fricke, featured a symbiotic, original composition and performance by the percussionist Peter O’Gorman. The composer’s participation represented one of the first projects underwritten by the Live Music for Dance Minnesota program of the American Composers Forum.

At rise, eight dancers in close proximity faced the audience from upstage center, heads uplifted, elbows crooked above their faces, and legs moving to lateral tendu in costumes crafted by Annie Cady. For an instant, one perceived thrilling aspects of Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations,” presented in Minneapolis earlier in the week by the Northrop Dance Series.

Two major movements featured two, well-crafted quartets. That for the men, Tristan Koepke, Scott Mettille, Stephen Schroeder, and Gregory Waletski, resembled voguing at times, and that for the women, Mary Ann Bradley, Tamara Ober, Leslie O’Neill, and Laura Selle Virtucio, worked on and into the floor. During the latter, the men crouched across and behind an upstage scrim, unfolding vertically while each struck, in turn, a single toned triangle in sync with O’Gorman’s larger theme.

Although an audience member was overheard at intermission to say that most dances, everywhere, could stand to be cut by five minutes, the primal and solid “Wine Dark Sea” ended with an abruptness that called out for one more movement to lend a sense of completeness.

I retain my earlier assessment that “Booba” (Hebrew for “doll”) from 2008, represents “an odd set of excerpts” from a full-evening work by Andrea Miller, a graduate of The Juilliard School. Set to music by Balkan Beat Box, the work engages with a series of personality-expressing divertissements, opening with a stage-right-to-left shimmy led by Schroeder, followed by O’Neill, Mettille, Ober, Koepke, and Bradley. Miller’s choreography resembles a cross between disco and breaking, and Schroeder and O’Neill shine in a duet that could reflect characters from The Big Bang Theory.

If anything will instill in me an appreciation for postmodern dance that moves beyond grudging, it will be the dances of the choreographer Morgan Thorson, whose work has been recognized and supported by nearly every major funding entity in the field. She accepts, on an elemental level, that dance should include at least a minimal amount of intelligent movement that also does not require an advanced degree to follow and understand.

In her new, second creation for Zenon, “All Parts ˆAre Welcome,” she crafts a mesmerizing world that seeks to “stare down our worst conflicted feelings about life.” Thorson immerses herself holistically in the details of her creations, holding credit here for costuming in addition to choreography, and sharing billing for lighting design with Mike Grogan.

She has described “All Parts ˆAre Welcome” as bringing “everything that makes us human into the choreographic process by way of observation, same sex attraction, flipping, dominance, rejection, a desire for intimacy, lies, compartmentalizing, obedience, manipulation, wanting to be seen, arrogance, love” and more.

Some of her parts struck me as weird, but very pleasingly so. From the opening moment when Selle Virtucio burst through the curtains upstage center, we took a journey both light and dark with music created by Chris Schlichting and occasional vocalizations by the dancers. On first viewing, the ending appeared to fritter away weakly in contrast to the intentional composition that preceded it, almost as though Thorson lost her nerve or her interest, and walked away.

In the dance’s latter minutes, Thorson has the leggings, the curtains that mask the sidelights and offstage walls, rise into the fly-loft, seemingly because they can. The time-worn gimmick adds nothing here and, frankly, her work has outgrown it.

With no sets or gimmicks, a wearied and troubled world needs the moments of joyful and spectacular uplift delivered by “Pink Martini,” the evening’s closer.

Since its debut last fall, “Pink Martini,” has served a heart-melting grin from beginning to end, and as the capstone work of Zenon’s sterling, 2011-12 season. It represents a level of sleek and chic choreographic and performance sophistication that the town needs in its collective dance repertoire. With some smoothing of sound transitions between musical segments, one hopes it might become a signature work for a company that has never known one.

For audiences present at the work’s creation, however, any future cast will be hard-pressed to match the accomplished appeal of the present ensemble of eight, collectively the strongest and best of Zenon’s 29 years. The choreographer, Marius Olszewski, created it for them and they own it totally.

Crafted as a series of ballroom dance vignettes using cha-cha and mambo styles set to music of Rosemary Clooney and Perez Prado and His Orchestra, “Pink Martini” offers the dancers star turns that exude confidence, drip with sex appeal, and glow with glamour.

The opening solo by Mettille, a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota’s Dance Program, set the exciting tone and standard for all that followed. When joined by O’Neill for an ensuing duet, their combined effort was electric. The pairing of these natives of Minnesota (him) and of Wisconsin (her) created a charisma that elevated them to rock stars in the company’s shining galaxy.

Additional pairings – of Waletski and Bradley, Selle Virtucio and Schroeder, Ober and Koepke, O’Neill and Schroeder, Mettille and Waletski, and Bradley and the guys, along with quartets for the men and for the women – combined to evoke a huge “Yes!” and ovation from their audience.

Over time, dancers and dance companies, like athletes and sports teams, experience seasons of triumph and loss. For one who discovered the idea of Zenon before its debut performances in 1983, the company has danced through periods difficult to watch. Not so in recent years. The triumph of the present season holds cause for much celebration and higher aspiration for the times to come.

For tickets to Zenon Dance Company at The Cowles Center for Dance, call 612.206.3600.

Gary Peterson served as managing director of Zenon Dance Company from 1986 to 1991. Photos by Steve Niedorf.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Beethoven completed his Quartet for Strings No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Opus 131, in 1826, the year before his death. That he was deaf when he composed the 40-minute work remains reason for amazement, even – and especially – in the jaded, show-it-to-me culture of our present century.

I recall the first time I heard the work.

“Opus 131” • Cory Goei & Leah Gallas

Following the conclusion of a performing arts conference and showcase in Chicago, I was driving across Wisconsin to Minneapolis on a Sunday afternoon in September 1995 with three members of the James Sewell Ballet. We had stopped earlier at the resort town of Wisconsin Dells, primarily just to say we had done so.

James Sewell was going to begin choreographing a new ballet set to Opus 131 the next day. None of us had heard the music, so Sewell played it over the van’s sound system as we drifted along I-94 toward the Minnesota border and into setting sun. The seven movements, each with a distinct feeling, are played through without pause.

Created for six dancers at its 1995 premiere at The O’Shaughnessy in St. Paul, “Opus 131” featured three partnered pairings by Anna Laghezza and Sewell, Sally Rousse and Christian Burns, and Penelope Freeh and Joel Klausler.

When reprised during the 2002-03 season, Sewell expanded the work to four pairings: Freeh and Matthew Keefe, Rousse and Sewell, Peggy Seipp and Benjamin Johnson, and Julia Welsh and Justin Leaf. JSB’s touring schedule was extensive that year, and “Opus 131” saw action on stages throughout the country.

One of those stages, a college in New England, would be followed by a Sunday matinee at Brooklyn College in New York City. It would be the company’s first gig in the city since performing at Hunter College in Manhattan in March 2001.

In Minneapolis on Friday, April 11, 2003, it occurred to me that it would be fun to make the scene in Brooklyn, and I told my administrative colleagues that I would go if fares were under $200. Through the wonders of online booking, I found a round-trip to LaGuardia for $184, and arrived at the hotel in Brooklyn 30 minutes before the company drove in the next afternoon.

The Parker Quartet

Sunday, April 13, was Palm Sunday, and the staff at Brooklyn College had no expectations of filling even half of the 2,500 seats in Whitman Hall. I arrived at the theater in the morning with Kevin Jones, the production manager, and Matthew Keefe, who served the dual role of dancer and wardrobe master. My job was to not interfere, pace, and hold court in the lobby when the audience arrived.

For a while, it seemed as though there would be no audience. In addition to being Palm Sunday, it was one of those bright and romantically languid Sundays that only New York City can muster, and the streets of Brooklyn were bereft of movement. Finally, as though a faucet was turned on, people arrived from nowhere to take their seats.

The performance began, and I watched from the back of the theater where I could pace with my usual thoughts, hoping that the performance went well, that the audience had an engaging time, and that terrorists or some other mayhem did not disrupt the scene.

My blood pressure shot up as a series of episodic camera flashes appeared from the audience, not far from the stage. Cameras are never allowed in live performances out of consideration for other audience members and to protect performer safety and intellectual property interests. The nature and length of the music and dance, however, meant that trying to confiscate a camera would be more disruptive than the flashes, and I seethed in silence.

At intermission, while stationed near the lobby exits looking for a wayward camera, a college press officer walked up and asked if I was with JSB and could I identify photos of the dancers for Anna Kisselgoff, the senior dance writer for the New York Times. In our brief, pleasant exchange of business, she noted – a bit archly, I thought – that our public relations game had left something to be desired for this performance.

Neither we nor the college had thought of trying to schedule a photo call for the press given that we had a single performance, and I was thunderstruck by the thought that Kisselgoff had brought a photographer “all the way to Brooklyn” on Palm Sunday. I also was glad that we had taken pains to make our program notes look as respectable as possible.

Back in Minneapolis, two mornings later, I received an early call from the mother of a JSB dancer who told me I would never believe that day’s New York Times. She was right.

Across the top, front page of the arts section, and under the headline “Balletic Sonnets, Surprises Included,” was a full-color photo of the JSB dancers taking a curtain call in Brooklyn for “Opus 131.”

In her review, Kisselgoff wrote,

Someone needs to give the James Sewell Ballet from Minneapolis and Mr. Sewell’s always imaginative, often exquisite ballets a full season in New York. In the meantime, thanks go to the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts for presenting Mr. Sewell’s chamber troupe with three New York premieres at Brooklyn College’s Whitman Hall on Sunday afternoon.
Mr. Sewell is one of American ballet’s best choreographers, albeit one who composes sonnets rather than epics. This lack of pretension can make his work look deceptively gentle, but it is not modest. Grounded in a neoclassical style that is exploited in different ways, his choreography brims with surprises in movement invention.

This rich texture was obvious on Sunday in ”Opus 131,” a fanciful, plotless ballet set to Beethoven.

Quite simply, reviews do not get much better than that. Most artists, let alone dancers, will never get their names and photos splashed across a page of the New York Times.

It is no longer my job to pace at the back of theaters during JSB performances. Instead, I sit calmly and expectantly in the audience, as I did last Friday at The Cowles Center for the latest iteration of “Opus 131,” this time for seven dancers: Nicky Coelho, Leah Gallas, Cory Goei, Chris Hannon, Nic Lincoln, Sally Rousse, and Eve Schulte.

This go-round has its own special excitement. For the first time, the dancers are performing to live music, provided by The Parker Quartet, an exquisite ensemble of passionate talent whose members include Daniel Chong, violin, Karen Kim, violin, Jessica Bodner, viola, and Kee-Hyun Kim, cello.

You can catch them at 8pm, April 20-21, and 2pm, April 22. Call 612.206.3600 for ticketing.

Gary Peterson served as executive director of James Sewell Ballet from 1995 to 2008.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

For five years, the Ballet of the Dolls and the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis have presented “Renovate,” annual dance performances that display the creative outcomes of a dozen different dance makers and the performers they enlist or employ. Bravo to all involved, both for this year’s production and for the sustained effort over time!

These presentations help keep dance insiders informed about the creative currents and personalities of their field. They also provide new and independent artists an opportunity to have their work seen by a public. Whether they also help develop a broader audience for the art form, however, is less certain. As a dance insider myself, I knew about this year’s performances, but only barely.

Renovate: 5th Annual Choreographers' Evening at the Ritz Theater

For sure, enticing an audience in the hope of its engagement can be tough when the daily newspaper in town does not include one’s performance in its print calendar listings. However, people with dances to be seen, whether their efforts are emerging or established, can and must do more to help their cause.

At minimum, we must consider how we communicate about what we are doing. Like other sponsors in this city and elsewhere, the Ritz attaches the title of “choreographers’ evening” to these performances, even when an evening might be an afternoon. Moreover, for those not familiar with the ways and words of dance, the phrase “choreographers’ evening” may evoke either opaque stares of incomprehension or visions of a who’s-who cocktail party at which one is probably not welcome.

If their intent is to introduce a performing product line to new customers, presenting venues and their partners may find it apt to use more vernacular descriptions, something, for example, like “a sampling of dance morsels,” and explain how they are like the cheese samples handed out in grocery stores on Saturday mornings. Food, in other words, designed for the heart, mind, and soul.

"Going to the Soirée" • Jim Smith

God lives in the details, and words matter in a hyped-up world. People who cast ballots at the polls and spend dollars in the marketplace are a discerning lot. They pay attention to nuance. They seek value and authenticity. They can appreciate genuine innovation, but not claims of greatness or uniqueness. First, though, they must understand that and how each election, shopping trip, and performance is an occasion worth their participation.

I started this line of musing when a friend and I shared observations about the sparse attendance and performer-specific cheering sections at “Renovate: A Choreographers’ Evening” at the Ritz, March 16. It may be bad form or insensitive to say so, but with 12 featured choreographers and many more performers taking the stage, the house, with seating for 240, should have been full and the level of applause more generalized.

Getting to there is no easy task. On the same evening, across the river and a mile away, a dance company celebrated its 20th anniversary with foot-stomping live music and dancing, veteran performers, and a new house built for dance. All 500 seats of the Cowles Center were sold out. With disrespect to no one, one wonders what the Cowles attendance might have been without the explicit sense of anniversary occasion. Often, when looking at standing room only, we consider “a win a win” and move on.

I have learned repeatedly not to trust the hopes and predictions of novice and veteran marketing administrators in the arts. As a friend from a presenting venue in northern Minnesota told me last month, “Ten years ago, I could look like a hero to my board of directors because all my projections came within 1% of plan and budget. Now, nothing that I put on stage is predictable, no matter what I do.”

Ultimately, these issues intertwine with the reality that no performing venue in our state, new or old, suffers from overcapitalization. In that, the allocation and distribution of Legacy Amendment funds by our arts establishment has been disappointing: they gamble too much on projects for the present with too little or no investment for the long term. That is musing for another time, however.

Given all that ballyhoo, how did I like “Renovate: A Choreographers’ Evening”? Answer: The first half lacked a certain je ne sais quoi, primarily because the several excerpts from larger works did not fully engage. Overall, the evening provided a chewy and nourishing meal, with a varied selection of novice and experienced dance artists. Featuring fewer works of greater length might be a consideration for the future.

For five years, Lisa Conlin has curated Renovate with a panel of three consultants. This year’s panel included Colette Illarde, Jim Lieberthal, and Carol Meyer, one of whom told me that this year’s 12 choreographers were selected from an audition field of 21. The program got under way with a late start at 8:07pm.

Sarah LaRose-Holland

Sarah LaRose-Holland is a modern dance choreographer and performer with degrees in finance and dance from the University of Florida. Among other pursuits, she serves as artistic director of the Kinetic Evolutions Dance Company, presenter of the Kinetic Playground series at the Perpich Center for Arts Education and the Burnsville Performing Arts Center, and presenter of the Kinetic Kitchen dance series at Patrick’s Cabaret. The excerpt offered from “Going to the Soirée,” a work she premiered with Kinetic Evolutions at Old Arizona last November, did not stand up particularly well by itself as the program opener. Excerpts can be a gamble that way. It was a colorful work, with red, green, and white dresses, danced competently by Una Setia, Hai Dang Nguyen, Kayla Schiltgen, and Jenny Snug. Set to music by Louis Jordan, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald.

“How to Make a Paper Crane,” a solo created and performed by Lindsay M. Anderson, featured a precise, graceful dancer moving with and against the rhythms and images of music composed by Steffen Basho-Junghans and a film edited by Amanda Doerr. The difficulties in starting the film at the beginning of the work were not as unfortunate as if they had occurred during, and the technical crew knows that. Anderson, a modern dancer who has worked and performed with LaRose-Holland and others, holds degrees in dance and English from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Conlin, a dancing member of Ballet of the Dolls, staged the Lost Orphans excerpt from her “Blue Heaven,” a poetic, seven-movement journey through the stages of grief. The full work had been presented a few weeks earlier at the Ritz and in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Four women, Conlin, Leila Awadallah, Raena Smith, and Jennifer Mack, moved to an original score by Mike Hallenback in a segment that worked as a cohesive unit. A question: A couple performers left the stage and moved into the house with lighting that was insufficient for the audience to see them; were they doing something that mattered? If not, why were they there?

Angharad Davies

Angharad Davies earned an MFA in dance from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, has performed throughout the world, and choreographed and taught in the United States and Germany. Currently, she teaches at the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists and lectures at the University of Minnesota. “Fear,” an excerpt from a larger work presented at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, studies the masking and managing of everyday anxieties, and was inspired by silent film images and German expressionist dance. Erin Search-Wells and Sam Johnson, both members of SuperGroup, joined Davies in a vocalized accompaniment to a less than satisfying movement segment. The visuals were striking: all three barefoot, Davies in purple dress, Search-Wells in red dress, and Johnson in white suit. In this setting, the lanky Johnson’s expressive – though hirsute – face resembled that of a young Stan Laurel.

Amanda Leaveck

Amanda Leaveck graduated from the University of St. Thomas with degrees in neuroscience and dance. She choreographed “I Love You,” a fascinating solo danced by Christina Omlie to live guitar accompaniment by Tazz Germaine Lindsey. Nice, but I wanted more. We will probably see more with time. Leaveck directs Face Forward, a booking, event planning, and multimedia organization, and serves as artistic director of the Energy Dance Collective.

Christine Maginnis

Christine Maginnis, one of Minnesota’s long-reigning dance divas, crafted an original, complex and complete psycho-drama. Throughout “Achtung Bitte!” its characters changed the orientation of set furniture pieces to reflect changing perspectives on three, time-lapse sequences. With Karl Heinzerline/The Butler as a witness, Maginnis/Frau Marquis vied for the attention of Gregory Waletski/Herr Marquis to scratch a particular and insatiable itch. Music of Frankie Yancovic, Johannes Brahms, Johann Strauss, and Sergie Rachmaninoff. Maginnis will perform with Ballet of the Dolls for the first time in May 2012.

Jennifer Mack

Returning from intermission, the stage floor was covered with overlapping sheets of plastic laid wing-to-wing for “Just Within,” a solo created and performed by Jennifer Mack. Accompanied by singer/guitarist Matt Marka, Mack moved slowly beneath the plastic from center stage left to upstage center where she emerged, as though from water, in a floor-length white frock and free-flowing long hair. The sound of moving plastic suggested that of rippling wind and water and complemented the distinctive visual imagery. Mack started her dance training in Rochester, Minnesota, and graduated with degrees in dance and arts management from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Karen Charles

For her part, Karen Charles holds degrees in ballet and computer science from Texas Christian University, and a Masters in education administration from Georgia State University. In Minnesota, she served leadership roles with the Perpich Center for Arts Education and the Main Street School of Performing Arts in Hopkins before founding the Threads Dance Project. Four of her company’s dancers – Mackenzie Beck-Esmay, Michala Cornell, Karen Gullikson, and Jenny Pennaz – worked with a bench and a long stretch of black veiling fabric in “Childless Mother,” set to Sweet Honey in the Rock. The program note told the tale: “A child should not leave the world before its mother. What does a mother do when her identity has been taken from her?”

Jaime Carrera, a multi-disciplinary artist from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, totally owned his solo, “Residency,” with a confidence – a conviction – that I have not seen in some of his earlier performances. Clad only in briefs, with house lights up, he brushed his teeth and danced for himself as one might do before a bathroom mirror when believing no one else was present. Or not caring if they were. Music by The Bad Plus.

Joanie Mix & Jason Lande

Another artist with a foot each in the Rochester and Twin Cities dance worlds has been busy since graduating with a degree from the University of Minnesota. Along with other activities, Joanie Mix co-directs the Rainy Day Cabaret. Roughly half of the eight dancers (Emma Barber, Lindsay Bullock, Sarah David, Emily Hansel, Jennifer Mack, Morgan Olson, Anat Shinar, Ashley Tanberg) in “Promenade Danse la Nuit” are members of that company. They performed to music of CocoRosie and Sneaker Pimps against a black-and-white film projection created by Mix and Jason Lande. From a dance and film with a social message that does not bash, we learn that there are 12,300,000 victims of sex trafficking every year, more than nine million are women, and many are minors.

If one discounts the summer class sessions I took from a former Broadway hoofer who smoked through kick-ball-changes at the old MacPhail Center for the Arts, then Denise Armstead, another of our divas regnant, was my first get-down-to-business jazz instructor at Zenon Dance Company and School. “Feel My Monkey (WTF)” brought on a pleasant reverie as Armstead and Maginnis danced to Stephanie Lien and The Who with the sound of wind and old-time radio singing voices – Jackie O meets Maria Callas. I want to see these two dancing when both are 70. Armstead will perform at Patrick’s Cabaret, Mar. 23-24 and 30-31, and at the Burnsville Center for Performing Arts, June 8.

Carrie Lande

Carrie Lande-Homuth holds a degree in dance from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and moves in dance circles similar to the Rainy Day Cabaret whose ranks provided the six dancers for “Out of my Skin,” her second work for a Renovate evening: Emma Barber, Lindsay M. Bullock, Non Edwards, Mackenzie Lewis, Joanie Mix, and Ashley Rose Tanberg. Set in two strong sections to music by Varttina, the first movement, in particular, displays powerful imagery with fists and arms. Parts of the work are strong enough to compete for a SAGE Dance Award. Lande-Homuth will have work represented at Kinetic Kitchen, May 4.

The original of this post was updated to correct the misnamed character portrayed by Gregory Waletski in Christine Maginnis’ “Achtung Bitte!”

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