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Chainsaws and ballet: together at last



James Sewell Ballet comes to Big Sky's Warren Miller Performing Arts Center on Saturday March 28.

By Jennifer Waters Explore Big Sky Contributor

BIG SKY – Chainsaws have nothing to do with ballet, or so you might think. James Sewell has a different idea.

The two unlikely partners will unite in “Guy Noir,” a repertory piece choreographed by Sewell, who along with Sally Rouse founded the James Sewell Ballet in New York City, then brought it to Minneapolis, Minn. in 1993. The performance will take place on the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center stage on Saturday March 28 at 7:30 p.m. A second part of the show, called “Silk Road,” will round out the ballet.

“Guy Noir is very tongue-in-cheek and many props will be used,” said Nicky Coelho, a dancer in the show.

Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” played muse to Sewell, working with the choreographer and his dancers in their studio to develop the ballet. Guy Noir is a private detective trying to solve crime in this comedic work, and a series of stories lies within the dance.

“Garrison rewrote lyrics for the piece and was very involved with the dialog,” said Sewell of the ballet, noting that the audience will hear voiceovers by Keillor during the performance.

The James Sewell Ballet will close out this winter’s WMPAC season, its third trip to Big Sky since opening the first winter season in December 2013. This is the only act to be invited back for the second season, something WMPAC’s Artistic Director John Zirkle hopes will become tradition.

“We are incredibly lucky to see James and his company as engaged as they are with Big Sky,” Zirkle said. “‘Guy Noir’ is a perfect example of [his] unending creativity and fearlessness.”

Local residents Sandra and Jac Jacobsen first introduced WMPAC to the James Sewell Ballet in 2013 as a way to bring a new approach to the arts center. Sandra was formerly a board member for JSB and the couple avidly supports the company.

While the ballet was visiting Big Sky in December 2013, event organizers created the idea of holding a dance intensive for advanced dancers and local children, alongside a company residency. The idea grew and came to fruition in spring 2014 when Zirkle and James Sewell Ballet Executive Director George Sutton ironed out finances and logistics.

The ballet company was in residency with WMPAC for two weeks last July, teaching students from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, and will be returning this July for a second residency.

During his summer 2014 visit Sewell began his creation of “Silk Road,” which will be presented in final form at the upcoming show. “It is the spirit of the place that inspired what came,” said Sewell about choreographing the performance on the WMPAC stage in Big Sky.

Sewell’s other inspirations included the frontier spirit, natural beauty, and the spirit of adventure, he said. The audience will see the grace and beauty through Sewell’s unique movement style alongside extremely technical ballet pointe work.

This production continues the blossoming partnership between the James Sewell Ballet and WMPAC, and is sure to entertain. Just be careful, says “Guy Noir” performer Chris Hannon.

“Dancing with chainsaws is never a good idea,” Hannon said. “Don’t try this at home, kids.”

To witness the magic that’s bringing the James Sewell Ballet back to Big Sky, visit for tickets to “Guy Noir.”

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