LITTLE FALLS -- James Sewell and a couple of his professional dancers are directing (and cavorting with) a noisy flock of fifth-graders in the Lindbergh Elementary School gymnasium.
Other dancers with the James Sewell Ballet Co. are doing the same with another group of children, beyond the wall that divides the gymnasium in two parts.
It's day one of the contemporary dance company's weeklong residency in Little Falls public schools, a series of demonstrations and lectures and rough-and-tumbles with students and other area residents that ends with a public stage performance Saturday night.
Show time is 7:30 p.m. in the Charles Martin Auditorium in the area high school. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, and are still available by calling (320) 632-0960.
James Sewell reclines face down on the gymnasium floor in a ballet-jump-over-me routine for students participating in the James Sewell Ballet Co.'s weeklong residency in Little Falls public schools. The company will perform for the public at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Charles Martin Auditorium.
The Great River Arts Association rounded up the $12,500 Arts Across America grant from the state, then underwrote the matching bite to bring the ballet company to Little Falls.
The dancers started Monday with a gymnasium romp for about 100 fit and hardy fifth-graders. In a mid-afternoon session, the kids roll and slither and windmill their way across the polished gym floor, as Sewell and his colleagues march them through a series of body maneuvers.
The room swells with the happy squeals of children at play, all in the name of "learning how to express yourself with body movements," the nub of a choreographed dance, one instructor said.
"It's difficult to teach classical ballet to the kids, so we want to teach them that it's fun to use their bodies to express themselves," said Erina Noda, now in her second season with the Twin Cities dance troupe.
Fifth-graders at Lindbergh Elementary School in Little Falls limber up for a demonstration by members of the James Sewell Ballet Co. of Minneapolis.
The Sewell dancer -- via classical ballet training in Zurich and her native Japan -- chatted with an observer for a moment before re-joining the body movement exercises.
A cameraman roams the outskirts of the frolic, collecting video for cable public television broadcast later in the week. Sewell and some of his dancers will be interviewed for the show.
The camera moves in for a close up as Sewell -- boyish looking at 38, clad in slot-for-the-pliers baggy blue jeans, wearing a crown of scruffy dark hair, gracing about in stocking feet -- gathers a dozen of his young charges into a seated circle. It's time for a lesson in what Sewell calls "cooperative creativity."
Their task, the dancer-choreographer said, is to "work together to solve a (dance) movement problem, to learn how to use your creativity together."
From the circle of boys and girls, his words rebound with a chorus of suggestions and a swirl of tiny arms.
The father of an 18-month-old girl, Sewell appears as animated as his students, as comfortable as one of the gang.
A native of Minnesota, Sewell moved his small company from New York in the early 1990s, sending down its roots in arts-friendly Minneapolis, growing from a home-based business into a $400,000-a-year operation that tours regularly.
Sewell serves the company as artistic director, choreographer and dancer while his wife and fellow dancer Sally Rousse is its artistic associate.
The ballet troupe has appeared at venues in 22 states, Sewell said in an interview, including about 35 Minnesota communities. It routinely conducts school-based residencies under various grant programs.
"The main thing I'm going for in the school or public performances is to change people's minds about ballet," he said. "Ballet gets a bad rap. People see it as stuffy and boring, but they will see us escape from the straight jacket and dance to pop and blues and country.
"If they think, 'Boy, that was really fun' and they want to see more, then that's a big success," he said.
Known for sleek and colorful costuming, as well as contemporary choreography, the company combines modern, jazz and gymnastic numbers "into something that is more unique," Sewell said.
The residency included more than 20 activities for Little Falls students and members of the community. Sewell even addressed the city council Monday night.
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