Belly Up To the Barre

Dancers Zoé Emilie Henrot, Artistic Director, and Jarod Boltjes, Production Manager. Photo by Lori Gleason

Dancers Zoé Emilie Henrot, Artistic Director, and Jarod Boltjes, Production Manager. Photo by Lori Gleason

We live in a dance hive. The Twin Cities hums with vigorous companies performing modern dance, post-modern dance, post-post, and everything else, from tap to hip-hop, from Afro to flamenco. Soooo, do we need yet another troupe?

Balletomanes holler “Yes!” (Or, if they’re Minnesotans, it’s more of a muted “You betcha.”) And if you happen to be an instructor within a ballet studio, you even more acutely realize the need. It’s twofold, says dancer/instructor Zoé Emilie Henrot: A company which stages performances shows students a path to the future. Plus, “it broadens ballet in the [under-served] Twin Cities.”

That’s how the Saint Paul Ballet came together two years ago, unique not only in its form but in its makeup. “It’s an artist-led company, so all our dancers wear other hats, too,” says Zoé, a dancer and artistic director. Another dancer serves as production manager; still others write grants, handle publicity, secure visiting artists, and, probably, sweep the floors. They’re paid professionals, employed 20 to 25 hours a week.

And it works. In its second season, the company has slated three major performances. October 25 features a gallery installation crawl through sites at St. Thomas University. December 18-21 Clara’s Dream—excerpts from The Nutcracker— will be performed at Macalester College. And March 19-22 at the Cowles Center in downtown Minneapolis, SPB will offer a contemporary dance show, reaching beyond its normal realm with works of guest artists choreographed on the troupe.

Nonetheless, “Ballet is our backbone,” says Zoé. “It’s a very, very small world here, and we’re looking to make it larger.” Helping with visibility—if not, possibly, credibility—was the company’s stint in the 2013 Pride Parade “with tutus prancing down Hennepin Avenue.” Zoe’s own work—Gray Matter— was part of the Fringe Festival, too. She was lured from Colorado to Minneapolis by her partner and welcomes the warmth of the GLBT community—“absolutely a bonding experience.” Two of the troupe’s male dancers are gay, too, she notes.

Is there a ‘gay way’ to do ballet? Actually, there can be, with SPB. “The classic pas de deux”—usually highlighted by a guy holding a girl aloft—“can be performed, instead, with two men, or two women,” she instructs.

Speaking of instruction, the company takes that community role very seriously, too. And it goes beyond pliés. Last year it organized a photo series on eating disorders, in conjunction with The Emily Program. “We wanted to show [victims] we care, and also that we love them the way they are,” she explains. This year, the company plans to expand that service with a full-length lecture series based on the idea of health—the various ways the body works—open to all. “And we’ll expand it beyond ballet—maybe to karate or ice-stating,” she hints.

Want a sneak preview? Show up at Landmark Center in downtown St. Paul for Free Ballet Tuesdays on the second Tuesdays of the month at noon.

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