• Tue. Oct 19th, 2021

First, dancers from the American Ballet Theater prepare to rock the Minnesota Arboretum

ByKaren B. Brown

Jul 8, 2021

It’s not every day that a dance company lashes out at the swagger and finery of rock stars. But when the American Ballet Theater comes to the Twin Cities this weekend for four shows at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, they’ll come up like, well, Beyoncé or the Rolling Stones.

The more than 20 dancers, the technical team and everyone else associated with the tour will arrive in tour buses and support vehicles that will also serve as their homes on the road, complete with kitchens, bathrooms and entertainment. ‘other equipment.

The travel team consists of two semi-trucks – large platforms that transform, like a transformer, into a performance stage with a lighting grid, all powered by another tour vehicle. The arboretum’s outdoor stage will be installed near the large red barn near the pollinating bee center. Spectators can bring their own chairs into the makeshift amphitheater (a concession stand will be available).

“It’s kind of amazing what we actually do and it’s unheard of for a ballet company,” said artistic director Kevin McKenzie. “The dancers and the crew are literally on rock ‘n’ roll buses. Load that up on the pandemic.”

The country’s leading ballet company, whose iconic figures include George Balanchine, Agnes de Mille and Twyla Tharp, was preparing to kick off its 80th season in New York City when the pandemic struck. Its leaders feared dancing would be the last thing to return, as performing arts shows typically take place in crowded indoor spaces. Worse, they feared their dancers would become isolated and, frankly, depressed. So they devised a plan borrowed from the National Basketball Association.

“We put the dancers in bubbles,” McKenzie said. “Everyone needs to stay engaged and positive. And we had to keep creating. And so, we just said, “Well, how do you do it safely? “- not just for our artists, but also for the public.”

The effort produced some of the pieces that will be featured in “ABT Across America,” a 50-minute show that has two performances on Saturday and Sunday (with Monday as the rain date).

The program includes excerpts from classic pieces such as “Don Quixote” and “Swan Lake”, as well as more recent choreographies set to music by Duke Ellington, Count Basie and other jazz giants.

“It’s incredibly accessible,” said Kari Schloner, director of Northrop, who hosts the show and has a long history with ABT. “They first appeared on our stage 70 years ago and performed at our reopening gala in 2014 after our [$88 million] renovation. ABT is the perfect company to happily welcome the public after the pandemic and to one of the most beautiful places in the state. “

“ABT Across America” launched on July 1 in Lincoln, Neb. It is part of an Ambassadorial effort to bring dancing to the people.

“They said over 6,000 people were there [opening night]Principal dancer Devon Teuscher said the day after her first performance in Lincoln. “It’s the biggest audience I’ve ever performed for in my life. It was absolutely phenomenal. “

Teuscher dances in Jessica Lang’s pas de deux “Let Me Sing Forevermore”, to music by Tony Bennett.

“I usually do more classic ballets – it’s been a real challenge for me, learning to do something that’s not in my wheelhouse, per se,” Teuscher said. “But it’s exciting because it’s a crowd pleaser and you get so much energy from the audience.”

She also performs White Swan, a favorite classical role with her dance partner Cory Stearns, also her life partner.

“It’s really cheerful and fun. And it’s something that we haven’t had in the last year and a half,” Teuscher said.

The tour also stopped in Iowa and Chicago’s Millennium Park. At all of these stops, Teuscher and Stearns, as tour directors, served as role models and guides.

Melvin Lawovi, a 21-year-old French apprentice, is among those who have benefited from the couple’s experience. He started at ABT in September 2019, about six months before the company closed due to the pandemic.

“It’s so good to be back on stage with so many people in this great celebration of the arts coming back,” Lawovi said. “As ballet dancers, our instruments are our bodies. We start very young and sacrifice a lot to get into the company. And we deform very quickly. The pandemic made me realize how much I missed dancing on stage and made me appreciate it even more. “

He stars in “Indestructible Light,” choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie’s celebration of jazz to music by Ellington, Basie and Billy Strayhorn, among others.

ABT members will share their donations not only with the public but also with the students. Cohorts from some of the Twin Cities ballet schools will take lessons with members of the company.

Anna Roehr, school studio director at St. Paul’s Ballet Co. Laboratory, brings nine young people to a workshop.

There aren’t many times a Minnesota dancer receives in-person lessons from an experienced ABT dancer, Roehr said.

“We’ve had virtual lessons, over 1,200 of them, and outdoor performances to stay engaged. And we can teach and even progress on Zoom. But just being in the same space, being able to see one. from the biggest companies in the US and around the world, and taking classes physically together – that’s also important to me and my students, ”she added.

McKenzie, the artistic director who plans to retire in 2022 after 30 years at the helm of the company, said the show is more than entertainment. It’s a healing tonic, both for the company and for an audience hungry for live performances.

He compared this tour to that of ABT during another difficult time in history.

“We were on the road when September 11 happened, and people were so upset,” McKenzie said. “The dancers were starting to wonder, ‘It doesn’t seem appropriate for us to play. And I said, “Hey guys you don’t do that anymore just because you’re good at it and it’s fun. Now you’re part of a healing process. You’re cultural ambassadors. and a safety net for people’s emotions. ‘ That’s what this tour is. “

Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390


ABT across America

When: 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sat, 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sun.

Where: Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, 3675 Arboretum Drive, Chaska.

Tickets: $ 20- $ 100. 612-624-2345 or tickets.umn.edu.

Note: the show takes place on a lawn. $ 100 VIP tickets include a chair. Otherwise, bring your own. Admission to the concert also includes all-day access to the Arb.

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