The first half of the James Sewell Ballet program at Minneapolis’ Cowles Center is a fast-paced look back over two decades of dancemaking. The second half is forward-facing, focused on a future filled with possibilities. Put the two together and choreographer Sewell, with his daring troupe, deliver a well-rounded evening of contemporary ballet, judging from Friday’s opening night.
“Retrospective” features eight repertory selections. The finale section from “Whaling Waters” (1994), for example, was first performed in Maine on the deck of a tall ship, and now features Nicky Coelho and apprentice Dominique McDougal in fine celebratory form, dancing as if tossed by a light, salty breeze.
“Swan Lake/Swan Pond” mashes up a 1993 Sewell pas de deux with one drawn from the classical ballet choreography of Marius Petipa. Cory Goei and Sally Rousse are hapless modern lovers, while Chris Hannon and Eve Schulte take the more traditional tights-and-tutu route. This is an interesting if somewhat unsuccessful experiment. It’s tough to tear your eyes from Goei and Rousse’s birdbrained antics.
Other highlights include “Suspended Breath” from “Good Mourning” (1997) (Rousse renders a shattering portrayal of grief) and Sewell’s sparkling rendition of the third movement from “Moving Works” (1996). Company veteran Penelope Freeh returns to infuse “Pains Pulse” (from 1996’s “Loves Remembered”) with a jagged emotional edginess.
The world premiere of “Outerborough,” with music by Todd Reynolds and Bill Ryan (played live by violinist Reynolds with hypnotic fervor) is, for the most part, a razor-sharp new work about clean lines that eventually are shifted and broken. Newcomer Kelly Vittetoe impresses with her dynamic interpretation of Sewell’s thematic partnership between elegance and dissonance.
The piece is an intricate study of the time-tested relationship between music and dance. But the improvisation sections are better left behind in the studio. The introduction of too many voices muddies up an otherwise well-focused movement message.
Opening the evening is Lar Lubovitch’s “Concerto Six Twenty-Two” (1986), performed as a tender homage to marriage equality in Minnesota. Nic Lincoln and Goei dance the New York-based choreographer’s timeless duet with tremendous grace, lovingly supporting one another, their arms intertwining to form a heart.