“I already know what happens,” said Brooke, an elementary school student who has just starting taking dance lessons, when I asked her if she’d seen Swan Lake. “I’ve seen The Barbie Movie.”
Streams of dancers and dance lovers flooded the Fitzgerald Theater last weekend for the Minnesota Dance Festival, hosted by Ballet Minnesota. The festival celebrated its twentieth anniversary this year, with a full length production of Swan Lake and performances by several local dance companies and schools.
Many young dancers aspire to become members of the Ballet Minnesota Company—like Erin Worn, who started taking classes at Ballet Minnesota when she was four years old. This year Warn danced in Swan Lake and had a feature role in the “Pas de Trois.”
Harper Skulley, who was there with her mother, has been taking ballet lessons for seven years, but this was her first year at the festival. She was there as an audience member and also as a performer. She performed in Elfan, a new work choreographed by Ballet Minnesota artistic director Andrew Rist. Harper isn’t old enough to dance in the full-length performance of Swan Lake, but in a few years she may be able to dance alongside professional dancers.
Perhaps one day Harper will become a member of the Ballet Minnesota Company—like Erin Worn, who started taking classes at Ballet Minnesota when she was four years old. This year Warn danced in Swan Lake and had a feature role in the “Pas de Trois.” “I grew up with the school,” said Worn, who now dances professionally with Ballet Minnesota professionally as well as a number of other companies.
Andrew and Cheryl Rist started the Minnesota Dance Festival twenty years ago at the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul Student Center. At the time they called themselves the Classical Ballet Company, which is now known as Ballet Minnesota. The idea for the festival was to reach out to the entire Minnesota dance community. “We wanted to bring the different dances together,” says Andrew Rist, who has been very busy over the past few months curating, choreographing, and teaching in preparation for the festival. Over the years the festival has included a number of different dance companies from the local community including James Sewell Ballet and Zorongo Flamenco.
This year, Anda Flamenco, Stephanie Blackmon Woodbeck, Dancing Dave, the Footholds Project, and Keane Sense of Rhythm were among the groups that were invited to perform.
“In our thirteenth year,” says Rist, “We received funding from the state, so we got a curator.” For a number of years the curator would orchestrate the various companies participating in the festival. In the past few years, due to cost squeezes, Rist has taken on the curatorial role himself.
This year, Anda Flamenco, Stephanie Blackmon Woodbeck, Dancing Dave, the Footholds Project, and Keane Sense of Rhythm were the groups that were invited to perform for schools on the Friday matinee and at the public matinee on Saturday. In addition, the festival allows dance schools to apply for a spot on the Sunday matinee, where students can perform onstage at the Fitzgerald Theater. The applications are approved on a first-come, first-served basis; this year students from CAAM Chinese DanceTheater, Ceaxmensions Junior Dance Theatre, Out on a Limb Dance School, Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, St. Paul Irish Dance, Academy of Russian Ballet, Dance Moves, and Art of Dance all had the opportunity to perform to a packed house. The student groups are not judged or critiqued—it’s simply an opportunity for different schools to participate in the festival.
Among those in attendance at the festival were many parents and grandparents of young dancers. On Friday night I sat next to Scott Mateo Davies, whose son Aaron Davies played the wolf in Elfan and also danced in Swan Lake. Davies told me that his son had been a hockey player in Ely, but one day he “hung up his hockey sticks and said he wanted to go to Minneapolis and dance ballet.”
Sheila Regan is a theater artist based in Minneapolis. When not performing or writing, she serves as educational coordinator for Teatro del Pueblo.