Dance Matters: At the Edges of Contemporary Ballet

October 31, 2013

James Sewell Ballet turns 20.


A choreographer with a mission to stretch the parameters of ballet, James Sewell has collaborated with a range of artists from contact improvisers to Argentine tango experts. His eight-member company, James Sewell Ballet, celebrates its 20th anniversary in Minnesota with some things old, and some things brand-new.

Co-founded by Sewell and Sally Rousse in New York City, the company relocated to Minneapolis, Sewell’s hometown, in 1993. JSB’s fall season retrospective takes place Oct. 25­–Nov. 3 at the Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts, where JSB is a resident company.


The concert showcases Sewell’s fiendishly complex coordinations, wicked humor, and willingness to take on social issues, such as marriage equality—Lar Lubovitch’s seminal Concerto Six Twenty-Two will be performed, celebrating Minnesota’s recent legalization of same-sex marriage. JSB’s spring season unveils a new work by Sewell based on Dante’s Inferno, which will take on morality and issues of crime and punishment from the 14th century to the present.

Sewell’s vision goes beyond his own multifaceted choreography. His wish list for future JSB seasons includes works by contemporary ballet masters like Alonzo King and William Forsythe. The TEK BOX, a laboratory theater created by Sewell, aims to help in the making of new work in an intimate, low-risk environment. “I support the trickle-up theory, that small theaters support experimentation. We need to foster the development of artists in ballet,” says Sewell. For several years JSB has presented the Ballet Works Project there, which features pieces made on JSB dancers by innovative area choreographers. Former company member Penelope Freeh says, “Dancing there cracked me open as a creative, contributive, and generative artist. Choreographing on the company meant interfacing with my colleagues from the trenches. The dancers and I speak the same language and approach each other from a place of trust.”

For Sewell, that kind of intimacy and ensemble feeling is essential: “I have dancers who are willing to take the risks, to be there in creative spirit.” ­—Linda Shapiro


Above: Eve Schulte and Nic Lincoln of JSB. Photo by Erik Saulitis, Courtesy JSB.