POST BY CAROLINE PALMER--Special to the Star Tribune

Building on the creative momentum generated by the Cowles Center in downtown Minneapolis, James Sewell Ballet

has transformed its second floor space into JSB TEK BOX, a small performance venue with an airy feel. This weekend marks its first production, Ballet Works 2012, a celebration of risk-taking projects by JSB members and guest artists.

Ballet Works is now in its seventeenth year. Most programs have been held in Sewell’s studio (with a handful at the Southern Theater) but the pieces are best seen in an intimate setting. Some are finished, others still evolving, but all represent thoughtful endeavors, particularly JSB co-founder Sally Rousse’s “Freemartin Twin” (the title references an infertile female mammal sterilized in the womb by a male twin and born with masculine behavior characteristics).

Dancers are seemingly “birthed” from the backdrop, their limbs like a calf’s gangly legs. The movement maintains this awkward sense of trying to get one’s footing throughout the piece. Because Rousse was inspired by the mysteries of twin relationships she focuses on duets exploring different levels of cooperation and conflict. Her singular sense of scientific inquiry meets iconoclastic interpretation is rigorous yet playful.

Karen Sherman’s “How Social Hunters Die” takes a similar tone but the focus is more on the curiosities of group dynamics. The dancers seem equally fascinated and disgusted with one another, first nuzzling then insulting (“You think you’re so important with your arms like that!” one snaps). Still, there’s a disarming sense of delicacy within the spikiness in the movement, as if the collective mood is not altogether hostile.

Eddie Oroyan’s “We Orbital Things” looks to astronomer Carl Sagan for inspiration and places the dancers (dressed as flight attendants) in a whirling onstage universe where bodies continually attempt to defy gravity. Oroyan’s no-holds-barred approach is surprisingly well-suited to this crew, who seem to enjoy tumbling over and under each other.

JSB member Nic Lincoln’s solo for Eve Schulte, “Apex,” draws upon Egyptian influences so the choreography is deliberately angular, relying on a quiet sense of geometric equilibrium. And “Tango Morph,” created by Sabine Ibes in collaboration with Sewell, hints at an intriguing premiere for the upcoming JSB spring season (April 13-22) experimenting with partner roles in the sensual Argentine dance form as well as contact improvisation.


Who: James Sewell Ballet

What: “Ballet Works Project”

When: 8 p.m. Sat., 2 & 7 p.m. Sun., 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22-23, 8 p.m. Feb. 24., 2 & 8 p.m. Feb. 25, 2 & 7 p.m. Feb. 26.

Where: JSB TEK BOX, The Cowles Center, 528 Hennepin Av. S., 2nd Fl., Mpls.

Tickets: $16-$24, 612-206-3600 or or

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