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Ballet comes to Wrenshall

Words of William Shakespeare, Felix Mendelssohn's music, dance by the Minnesota Ballet and acting by Wrenshall High School students connected during an expressive, and impressive, combination of fine arts in Wrenshall on March 2. The one-of-a-kind event was creatively assembled as a response to delays and interruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Centered around Shakespeare's comedy "A Midsummer Night's Dream," the event was a perfect fit with the literary classic's major themes on the power of imagination and its ability to overcome, fix and redeem.

"Originally, I was going to take the cast of the Wrenshall three-act play to the Minnesota Ballet's performance," said Tom Conover, and English teacher and the director of the three-act play.

The performances in Duluth were delayed by the pandemic.

"Our three-act play cast is performing a version of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' Obviously, not the ballet version, so I thought it would be a cool opportunity for them to see how Shakespeare would be performed doing ballet."

When the ballet's February performance was delayed, Conover called Kelli Latuska, its producing director, to cancel the school's ticket reservation. He instead received the unexpected response that the professional ballet company would like to do something specifically for his students to fulfill the educational part of the mission of their organization.

They proposed coming to Wrenshall to do a workshop.

"Ted and his students were excited about the prospect of directly working with our dancers," Latuska said. "Our dancers are always excited to do things like this, they get out of the studio for the day and get to share their art with people. It's an extra-special occasion for them. And I'm pretty sure this is the first time we have been in Wrenshall."

The ballet company brought nearly two dozen dancers, plus a handful more staff, to Wrenshall for the workshop.

Conover worked with Jennifer Miller, ballet master at the Minnesota Ballet, to put together a program at the school in which the students would watch a ballet performance and also interact with the dancers around the shared connection of performing "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

In addition to the ballet performance, the workshop included a question-and-answer session and a casual meet-and-greet between the participants. Wrenshall students shared a portion of their three-act play production with the ballet members by reciting lines during a break between the ballet's acts.

"We just started rehearsing a few weeks ago so we're pretty early in the process," Conover said. "Our performance will be during the first week of May."

A donation from Betsy Dugan made the original ticket reservations possible. It was earmarked for the arts. The Minnesota Ballet has rescheduled their run of Shakespeare's comedy for October, too late for this year's three-act play cast.

The recent ballet performance in Wrenshall was mostly informal, using a special padded floor brought in by the ballet and staged in the large multipurpose room with few props or costumes. Although the performance environment was minimal by design, the shared experience between students and dancers was obviously moving for them.

"Excruciatingly elegant are the two words that describe what we saw today," said Corvus Eckdahl, a senior at Wrenshall and part of the three-act play cast. "The dancers are so expressive and athletic. It's amazing how they move so fluidly and become the characters."

Minnesota Ballet, based in Duluth, is the premier classical ballet company and dance education organization in the upper Midwest region, providing high-quality performances, pre-professional ballet training and outreach programs. The mission of ballet is to inspire appreciation of the art of dance through performing and educating.

For more information and to see the company's full schedule of performances during 2022, visit http://www.minnesotaballet.org.

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