My Photo
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States

I am a dancer with Minneapolis based James Sewell Ballet, a small, contemporary ballet company. I also choreograph independently.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


We of James Sewell Ballet are in the midst of our spring season, our last series of performances this contract period. We are dancing again at the beautiful new Guthrie McGuire Theater, the red walls of which evoke drama on an operatic scale, perfect for this particular program.

Balanchine’s “Tarantella” opens. A duet from the ‘60’s, it is danced here by Brittany and Nic. They are charming in this warhorse. They have risen to the occasion, certainly earning tamborine rights. How silly, how sweet, and sometimes even sexy. I watch as I warm up, sure to catch my favorite moments, reveling on their behalf in the applause that follows each section. They’re on my team, and we’re winning.

They pass the baton to James and Sally who perform next in “Late”. This duet is charm of another sort. It is a fashionable, quirky cartoon, beginning and ending with a bang.

Then on to Jennifer Hart’s magnificent “LightSpace”. We are pleased that this is part of our program. Utterly challenging technically, it’s also a spatial puzzle, requiring a threading-of-the-needle accuracy that thrills in its split-secondness.

The second half of the show is James’ extended version of “Opera Moves”. This piece is largely sectional, mostly solos and duets, so we get to watch one another when we’re not busy changing costumes. This watching, this supporting from the wings, is the closest thing to unconditional love I can think of. And it is during this watching that my heart swells, recognizing the admiration and support we all feel for and from one another. We go from wing to wing, keeping up with the action, waiting for that great joke or promise of an astounding turn. Onstage to off, it is mutual, shared, sacred.

We are losing one of our ranks after this weekend. Brittany has taken a job with American Repertory Ballet in New Jersey. Her going is a multi-loss to me; she is colleague, friend, mentor, sister.

I’ve danced in this company long enough to have experienced many such losses. Each is singular in the specificity of feeling, and yet there’s a sameness about the ritual: people move on. I’ve moved on too, just with and alongside the company. Each of us requires something different. Some of us stay longer than others. Yet whatever our personal equation, for the time we are together, for the duration, we are solidly one. We are many and we are one, fulfilling our respective missions as we attempt to propel James’ forward.

We are team JSB, clad in mostly unitards with an occasional tutu or hat. We are company, collection, menagerie, an island of misfits. We come together to practice our unique dance. We laugh endlessly and cry occasionally. There’s sweat, blood, frustration in the extreme. But at the end of a long night of performing we stand in a single line and bow to people clapping. I can tell you there’s nothing better, and it’s not only because of the claps. It’s also the certainty of pride that I feel when I look on either side of me and see these friends, these artists, and that I can lay claim to being in their good company.


Blogger gaiuslove said...

Penelope, I saw James Sewell Ballet at the Guthrie on Thurs. April 12th. I thought the show as a whole was wonderful and really liked you. When reading your blog, your words reflected your deeper sensitivity shown in your dance. It was like a spritual (and I don't mean religious) experience.
Thanks again. :)


usher at the Guthrie Theater

10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Poem: "Sweetness" by Stephen Dunn, from New and Selected Poems 1974-1994. © W.W. Norton, 1994.


              for my mother

Just when it has seemed I couldn't bear
   one more friend
waking with a tumor, one more maniac
with a perfect reason, often a sweetness
   has come
and changed nothing in the world
except the way I stumbled through it,
   for a while lost
in the ignorance of loving
someone or something, the world shrunk
   to mouth-size,
hand-size, and never seeming small.
I acknowledge there is no sweetness
   that doesn't leave a stain,
no sweetness that's ever sufficiently sweet. ...
Tonight a friend called to say his lover
   was killed in a car
he was driving. His voice was low
and guttural, he repeated what he needed
   to repeat, and I repeated
the one or two words we have for such grief
until we were speaking only in tones.
   Often a sweetness comes
as if on loan, stays just long enough
to make sense of what it means to be alive,
   then returns to its dark
source. As for me, I don't care
where it's been, or what bitter road
   it's traveled
to come so far, to taste so good.

2:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


6:40 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home