James Sewell Ballet — New Moves — Image via jsballet.org

James Sewell Ballet’s New Moves

The Cowles Center

Stylistic diversity was the order of the day in this weekend’s performances by James Sewell Ballet at the Cowles Center in Minneapolis. After opening with a taste of classical ballet, the JSB dancers gave us three contemporary works that blended expressive grace, modernist rigor, and an irrepressible sense of fun — all performed with a noticeable and welcome awareness of the audience.

The program began with two of the company’s newest dancers — Laurie Nielsen and Jordan Lefton — performing the pas de deux from Marius Petipa and Adolphe Adam’s La Corsaire, which mostly served as a showpiece for the dancers’ formidable technique.

Next came the premiere of New Moves, a suite of dances developed by JSB artistic director James Sewell and the company during a residency in Montana. For this piece, the dancers were accompanied live by the Saint Paul new-music ensemble Zeitgeist, performing an original score by local composer Steven Rydberg. The suite of seven movements included some attention-grabbers at the beginning and end — “Montana Moves,” in which the dancers performed on skis, and “Kid Moves,” based on the movements of children at play — but the ones that stuck with me were two called “Love Moves,” which revolved around themes of vulnerability and wariness, and “Soaring Moves,” in which several of the dancers sent each other gliding over the stage on loops of fabric suspended from above. Zeitgeist gave an impressive, fluid reading of Rydberg’s engaging score, particularly shining in the improvisational “Club Moves.”

After the intermission came what was for me the highlight of the program, Joanna Kotze’s The rest of everything, developed by the New York-based choreographer for JSB’s Ballet Works project earlier this year. The piece began with a sort of hybrid greeting and thesis statement in the form of a succinct sequence of movements performed twice by Nielsen, solo, with the house lights up. This and another creatively lit early interruption — a tableau in which the dancers stood completely still before a few slowly began to “melt” — set the tone for the piece’s intensely self-aware, often aggressive melding of classical, modern, and contemporary moves into an entrancing narrative. Contributing to the piece’s playful severity were the costumes by Sonya Berlovitz and Shannon Gauere, with a limited color palette of pink, black and white.

The program concluded with Sewell’s Halloween-themed Grave Matters, a fun piece featuring plenty of jerky dancing by a group of zombies, with dancer Deanna Gooding in the role of their next victim. It was a fitting end to a program that had a little bit of something for everyone.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.