It's not every day that a dance company takes on the swagger and trappings of rock stars. But when the American Ballet Theatre comes to the Twin Cities this weekend for four shows at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, they will be rolling in like, well, Beyoncé or the Rolling Stones.

The 20-plus dancers, tech crew and everyone else associated with the tour will arrive in tour buses and support vehicles that double as their homes on the road, with kitchens, bathrooms and other amenities.

The travel party includes two semitrucks — big rigs that convert, transformer-style, into a performance stage with a lighting grid, all powered by another tour vehicle. The outdoor stage at the arboretum will be set up near the big red barn by the bee pollinator center. Audience members can bring their own chairs to the makeshift amphitheater (a concessions stand will be available).

"It's kind of unbelievable what we're actually doing and it's unheard of for a ballet company," said artistic director Kevin McKenzie. "The dancers and crew are literally on rock 'n' roll buses. Charge that to the pandemic."

The nation's preeminent ballet company, whose iconic figures include George Balanchine, Agnes de Mille and Twyla Tharp, was getting ready to launch its 80th season in New York when the pandemic hit. Its leaders worried that dance would be the last thing to come back, since performing arts shows usually take place in packed indoor spaces. Worse, they feared that their dancers could become isolated and, frankly, depressed. So they devised a plan that borrowed from the National Basketball Association.

"We put the dancers in bubbles," said McKenzie. "Got to keep everybody engaged and positive. And we had to keep on creating. And so, we just said, 'Well, how do we do it safely?' — not just for our artists, but also audiences."

The effort produced some of the pieces that will be shown in "ABT Across America," a 50-minute show that has two performances both on Saturday and Sunday (with Monday as a rain date).

The program includes excerpts from such classical pieces as "Don Quixote" and "Swan Lake," alongside newer choreography set to music by Duke Ellington, Count Basie and other jazz giants.

"It's incredibly accessible," said Kari Schloner, director of Northrop, which is presenting the show and has a long history with ABT. "They first appeared on our stage 70 years ago and performed at our reopening gala in 2014 after our [$88 million] renovation. ABT is the perfect company to joyously welcome audiences back after the pandemic and in one of the most beautiful locations in the state."

"ABT Across America" was launched July 1 in Lincoln, Neb. It is part of an ambassadorial effort to bring dance to the people.

"They said over 6,000 people were there [opening night]," said principal dancer Devon Teuscher the day after her first performance in Lincoln. "It's the biggest audience I've ever performed for in my life. It was absolutely phenomenal."

Teuscher dances in Jessica Lang's pas de deux "Let Me Sing Forevermore," which is set to the music of Tony Bennett.

"I usually do more classical ballets — this has been a real challenge for me, learning to do something that's not in my wheelhouse, per se," Teuscher said. "But it's exciting because it's such a crowd-pleaser and you just get so much energy from the audience."

She also performs White Swan, a favorite classical role with dance partner Cory Stearns, also her partner in life.

"It feels really joyous and fun. And it's something we've not had in the last year and a half," Teuscher said.

The tour has also stopped in Iowa and Chicago's Millennium Park. At all those stops, Teuscher and Stearns, as principals on the tour, served as role models and guides.

Melvin Lawovi, a 21-year-old French-born apprentice, is among those who have benefited from the couple's experience. He started with ABT in September 2019, about six months before the company shut down for the pandemic.

"It's so good to be back onstage with that many people in this huge celebration of the arts coming back," said Lawovi. "As ballet dancers, our instruments are our bodies. We start really young and sacrifice a lot to get into the company. And we get out of shape really quickly. The pandemic made me realize how much I missed dancing onstage, and made me appreciate it even more."

He performs in "Indestructible Light," choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie's celebration of jazz set to the music of Ellington, Basie and Billy Strayhorn, among others.

The members of ABT will share their gifts not only with audiences but also with students. Cohorts from some Twin Cities ballet schools will take classes with members of the company.

Anna Roehr, school studio manager at St. Paul-based Ballet Co.Laboratory, is bringing nine youngsters to one workshop.

There are not many moments when a dancer in Minnesota gets in-person lessons from an experienced ABT dancer, Roehr said.

"We've had virtual classes, over 1,200 of those, and outdoor performances to stay engaged. And we can teach and even make progress on Zoom. But just being in the same space, being able to see one of the bigger companies in the U.S. and the world, and taking classes physically together — that's meaningful to me and my students, as well," she added.

McKenzie, the artistic director who plans to retire in 2022 after 30 years at the company's helm, said that the show is more than entertainment. It's a healing tonic, both for the company and for audiences starved for live performance.

He likened this tour to one ABT had during another difficult period in history.

"We were on the road when 9/11 happened, and people were so upset," McKenzie said. "The dancers were starting to question, 'It doesn't feel appropriate for us to be performing.' And I said, 'Hey, guys, you're no longer doing this just because you're good at it and it's fun. Now you're part of a healing process. You're cultural ambassadors and a safety net for people's emotions.' That's what this tour is."

Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390


ABT Across America

When: 5 & 8 p.m. Sat., 2 & 5 p.m. Sun.

Where: Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, 3675 Arboretum Drive, Chaska.

Tickets: $20-$100. 612-624-2345 or

Note: The performance takes place on a lawn. $100 VIP tickets include a chair. Otherwise, bring your own. Concert admission also includes all-day access to the Arb.