Music with Minnesotans: James Sewell

by Alison Young, Minnesota Public Radio
May 12, 2011

St. Paul, Minn. — James Sewell tells me the best way to describe the dance he creates is to simply call it 'contemporary ballet.'

Women may or may not be on pointe, but the steps, the moves, the grace and the entire sensibility is grounded in traditional training.

But what amazing and breathtaking dance you see when going to a James Sewell presentation! It's movement that seems impossibly athletic then tantalizingly silly then tenderly sympathetic.

And all this created by a talent who is about the nicest guy you'll ever meet.

James is a dancer, Minnesota native and the Artistic Director of the James Sewell Ballet.

And he was sheer delight as a guest because he feels the music he loves it in his bones - and on top of that, he can tell you exactly why that is.

Who of us has not grooved to Beethoven or tapped along to Bach? Those primitive impulses James takes directly into his work and creates art in movement.

This is certainly because dance relies on music to come to life - or at the very least, a beat - but James feels a kinship because at one time he made music. He played the violin and oboe in school and has a big appreciation for those who make fabulous sounds on their instruments. That's why he has on his playlist a recording with one of the best oboists around, Kathryn Greenbank of the SPCO.

The James Sewell Ballet's most recent collaboration was with a gamelan orchestra - International Novelty Gamelan. James describes the first time he saw the larg gong at the Schubert Club and asked if he might play it. The waves of sound emanating from that beast had a profound effect on him. He shares a piece inspired by a gamelan orhestra - John Cage's Sonata for Prepared Piano.

And like so many guests, Bach makes James' list as well. This Sarabande was one that he danced to and is filled with deep expression and longing. He also connects since his dad played the violin and helped put James to sleep as a child with this piece.

James also includes Beethoven's most complex quartet on his playlist and his interpretation of in movement will leave you breathless!


James Sewell's playlist:

J.S. Bach, Violin Partita No. 2: Sarabande - Hilary Hahn

Ottorino Respighi, Ancient Airs and Dances Suite 1: Villanella - SPCO/Hugh Wolff

John Cage, Sonata No. 5 for Prepared Piano - Yuji Takahashi

Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet, op. 131 - Guarneri Quartet


Check out more from Music with Minnesotans:

Linda Z. Andrews, Ann Bancroft, Charles Baxter, Philip Brunelle, Mayor Chris Coleman, Michael Pearce Donley, Joe Dowling, Dr. Victoria Elmer, Gwen Freed, Nancy Gibson, William Gurstelle, Karen Hansen, Steve Heitzeg, Stuart Loughridge, Allan Naplan, Stephen Paulus, Chris Polydoroff, Consie Powell, Lois Quam, Mayor RT Rybak, Nick Schneider, Steve Schon, Mary Shideler 'The Kayak Lady', Ann Swenson, The Reverend Spenser Simrell, Ann Swenson, Paul Thissen, Dale Warland, and Matt Wehling.


Next time our guest is Larry Zea, a cattleman from Black Duck. He was a Navy Sea Chanter and traveled the world singing. He also loves operas and a few of his cows have been named after some title roles!

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