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ISSUE 121 VOL 7 PUBLISHED 11/9/2007

Sewell Ballet premiers 'Kinetic Head'

By Margaret Wade
Arts Editor

Friday, November 9, 2007

An evening at the ballet evokes stereotypical images of tutu-wearing dancers who defy gravity with precision and grace. However, when you go to a James Sewell Ballet, you never know what you will see; JSB is not your typical ballet company.

Celebrating their 15th season in Minnesota, JSB performed excerpts of Raymonda," Schoenberg Serenade" and the world premiere of Kinetic Head" at The O'Shaughnessy on Oct. 26, 27 and 28.

James Sewell Ballet continues to delight audiences with unexpected juxtapositions of modern and classical dance. Greeting the audience before the show, Sewell expressed his appreciation for the Minnesota audience: "It is fitting as we observe this milestone that our Twin Cities performances return to the venue where they began: The O'Shaughnessy theater on the campus of the College of St. Catherine."

"We like to give people their tutu fix,"" Sewell said before the show began. He acknowledged the integral role of classicism and tradition in creating contemporary ballet. As promised, the curtain rose to expose a couple excerpts from Marius Peipa's Raymonda" in the genre of Swan Lake." Beginning with La Romanesca" the audience was transported to St. Petersburg where the work premiered in 1898. 'Wedding Variation'" (also called 'hand-slapping solo'") displayed Emily Tyra's skillful technique en pointe.

After a short pause, the curtain lifted to reveal a dramatic shift in costuming: a jungle-like fringe skirt replaced Tyra's tutu. The changes in costuming supported the underlying theme of dissonance in the second piece, 'Schoenberg Serenade'," which commissioned by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in 2006. Inspired by 'Serenade," Op.24, a 12-tone work by Arnold Schoenberg, Sewell's choreography strives to "connect people to aspects or structures of music that they might find challenging."" Sewell illustrates the aural dissonance of Schoenberg's score through visual dissonance in his nine-part work. The choreography conveyed tension through angular arms and legs. Sewell plays with the fears of a classic ballet teacher: broken poses, collapsing arabesques and turned in toes. He defies the conventions of classical ballet with clever patterns and innovative movement, like when Tyra's body hung limply -- like a rag doll -- over Justin Leaf's arm.

The much-anticipated world premiere of 'Kinetic Head'" introduced the newest forms of contemporary ballet, challenging the senses with mesmerizing visuals and sound effects. 'Kinetic Head'" was commissioned by, and dedicated to, Richard and Sandra Jacobson on the occasion of their 40th wedding anniversary. According to Executive Director Gary Peterson, this groundbreaking work "continues James Sewell's exploration of multiple coordination in ballet, taking the movement patterns and layers to a new level of structural complexity.""

The performance began in complete darkness, and six lights flicked on and off in a pyramidal formation. The lights appeared to float in space, although dancers wearing neon-lit costumes held the lights and generated the movement. Sewell experimented with video backdrops as dancers moved with the video images to make the work appear spontaneous. Sewell's finale pushed the boundaries of human capability through a series of complicated phrases with precision and endurance.

Beyond the stage, 'Kinetic Head"' has resulted in a commercial and educational project designed to improve brain power to enhance physical performance and learning. According to Jewell, hand shape movement is beneficial to children with learning disabilities and seniors with Alzheimer's Disease. Visit the website to learn more about the programming:

Sewell and Sally Rousse founded JSB in 1990, while they both danced in New York companies. They still remain true to their original vision of JSB as "a company that performs innovative works that explore the technical boundaries of ballet.""

JSB continues to be a prominent artistic element in the Minnesota arts scene, having visited more than 300 venues in nearly 50 Minnesota communities. Be sure to get tickets for their upcoming performance 'Amahl and the Night Visitors'" in St. Paul on Dec. 21 and 22, 2007.

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