The second work on the fall season, 2006's "Schoenberg Serenade," further illustrates this point. Set to Opus 24 for Chamber Ensemble and Brass, the piece explores the composer's groundbreaking 12-tone work from 1924. This presents yet another challenge because the aurally dissonant music is not easy to listen to. "Some people think it's hideous, and I've been in that camp," Sewell acknowledges, adding, "but it's fun to build structures out of that music" and create movement that is just as visually dissonant. During a recent rehearsal led by Rousse, the company often dispensed with usually lyrical ballet lines, their arms crooking into hard angles, the dancers climbing onto one another's backs and balancing precariously. The dance offers an accessible way to understand Arnold Schoenberg's composition, and many will appreciate the score's complexities by using the movement as both filter and magnifying lens.
Rounding out the program is "Excerpt from Raymonda," with choreography after Marius Petipa's 1898 classic. The focus is on the hand-slapping variation, and Rousse explains that it's a powerful solo for a woman. It was once her role, but now the 19-year-old Tyra will take over, and she has received coaching on the Vaganova style from Lirena Branitski, a local teacher at the Minnesota Dance Theatre and Dance Institute who was a first soloist with the Kiev State Theatre of Opera and Ballet. "It's very difficult, very strong and straightforward," Rousse continues. "Emily is a student of Lirena's, and it was special for me to pass the baton to her."
Even as Sewell and Rousse continue to develop in their own right as artists, it is also true that they have reached a point in their careers where they will experience more acutely their impact on a new generation of dancers. It's a bittersweet moment signaling both their accomplishments in a difficult field and the quick passage of time from struggling to make it in New York to building an institution in Minnesota. Such security is precious, but Sewell and Rousse do not take their good fortune for granted. "There's no big pond, small pond as far as I'm concerned," says Sewell. "This is a huge milestone, and I'm really thankful to be in this place."
The James Sewell Ballet performs October 26-28 at the O'Shaughnessy at College of St. Catherine, 2004 Randolph Ave., St. Paul; 651.690.6700