DANCE | James Sewell Ballet’s fluid, accomplished “Ballet Works”


The Twin Cities’ premier ballet institution, the James Sewell Ballet Company, presented its newest season performance this past weekend: The Ballet Works Project. The new endeavor is a collection of forward-thinking pieces by local choreographers Hijack and Nicholas Lincoln (who is also a JSB dancer) as well as company founder Sewell himself.

The first work, At Best and at Best, Relationships are Marginal, is an avant garde piece that draws inspiration from the writing methods of poet Richard Hugo as well as the painter Mark Tansey’s “obsessive” creative process. The performance is painstakingly stitched together by Hijack’s creative duo Kristin Van Loon & Arwen Wilder, and each dancer’s movement has been carefully discussed and pored over. The result is somewhat disjointed, with each mover’s individual acts never really seeming to gain any sort of cohesiveness with each other. Perhaps this was the point though, since the title of the piece does in fact seem to imply that relationships are marginal. The original score is mostly lifted from the History Channel’s documentation of the moving of the historic Shubert Theater, which presents an interesting if somewhat dry accompaniment.

Dance Forms is a slightly more orthodox work, and features a two part dance, a piece structured on musical forms set to the jazz of Henri Mancini, as well as a “pedestrian movement” set to Air’s “How Does it Make You Feel.” Perhaps more than any other piece, Dance Forms takes advantage of the dancer’s natural fluidity and grace—whether their movements are derived from the musical structure’s of Mancini’s compositions or the more everyday life aspects of the latter piece.

Shannon Cristie’s Embodied Movement is next, a work that Cristie (a movement therapist) developed as an integrated therapeutic/performance piece. While the word “chakra” is never mentioned (perhaps to avoid negative connotation with new age medicine), Embodied Movement definitely embodies the root, heart, and crown chakras. Cristie’s depiction of the body’s “energy centers” begins with a fast paced movement denoting the body’s spiritual potential, while the heart chakra piece slows down to a more sensual, deliberate rhythm. Finally, the dancers all become one fluid group—demonstrating the crown chakra, the attainment of enlightenment or “pure consciousness.”

Lastly, JSB dancer Nicholas Lincoln’s premiere Unraveling What Binds finished the evening out with a stylized piece that involved the intercommunication of several suited dancers, first hassling and bumping into each other, then slowly sanding off their interactions’ rough edges (as well as removing the dancers’ clothes) until at the end they are rebirthed as a less antagonistic group. In some ways Lincoln’s piece was very similar to Cristie’s, however with less focus on the spiritual than the physical.

As they have proved time and again, the James Sewell Ballet is a reliable producer of creative and boundary pushing talent. The material of Ballet Works is yet another entry in that tradition of excellence.