DANCE | James Sewell Ballet shares the love at the Southern

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The James Sewell Ballet, a Minneapolis dance institution, is celebrating its 18th season this year and recently showcased their accrued talent at three back-to-back sold out performances at the Southern Theater. True to the tight-knit company’s ethos, the shows illustrated a couple of their members’ individual projects as well as some pieces that were the result of collaborations with other artists in the community.

The first half of the showcase comprised Stravinsky’s neoclassical ballet, Petrouchka. It’s a dramatic ballet, in which the dancers act out the story of an evil charlatan bringing to life three puppets: Petrouchka, the Moor, and the Ballerina. The characters then take part in a tragic love triangle which eventually resolves in Petrouchka’s death at the hands of the jealous Moor. While it’s a relatively straightforward story, the dancers effect a level of nuance using their fluid body language to portray themes of control, desire, and free will. Chris Hannon’s Petrouchka was particularly compelling, not only in his dancing but also in his tortured facial expressions. Emily Tyra, a fresh-faced youth, also brought a level of empathetic humanity to the Ballerina.

Guest choreographer Morgan Thorson presented the next piece, a work-in-progress entitled The New Now Place. Thorson’s complex work seems to owe more to modern dance than classical ballet. In New Now Place, nearly every member of the company interweaves in a series of vignettes that also include giant reflective screens, a robotic voiceover, and a pile of paper programs that it seemed like the performers were actually in danger of slipping on. To say the piece is abstract would be an understatement, but the company’s dancers made the piece compelling and accessible even when it required them to convulse violently.

The next piece, Simple Folk, was choreographed by JSB member Penelope Freeh, who was inspired by Beethoven’s transcriptions of traditional folk tunes. The piece is in seven movements, each corresponding to a different song. Freeh’s idea was to take folk stories and elaborate them through movement. The best of these was a duet by Chris Hannon and Stephanie Wolf: “On the Massacre of Glencoe.”

Finishing out the evening was JSB member Nicolas Lincoln’s Yearnings, which he undertook with the assistance of experimental drummer Marshall Bolin. Bolin sat shirtless at his drumset throughout the work, adding percussion and the occasional scream. Yearnings also features what the program calls a “live radio feed,” which is a piped-in radio talk show that features the host giving relationship advice. Lincoln’s piece incorporated several interesting elements that transcribed the frustrations of need and want into movement. The most notable moment was Emily Tyra’s impossible-looking arabesque from a full pointe relevé position. Wow.

For those of you who missed out on the show this time around, luckily the JSB is here to stay.

Jon Behm (jonbehm@gmail.com) is a Minneapolis-based photographer and writer. While his specialty is music, Jon has a wide variety of interests that tend to take him all over the Twin Cities on a daily basis.

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