Freshman combines professional ballet and the liberal arts

By Michael Richter

Earlier this week, The Mac Weekly spoke with Sarah Koehler ’13, a professional ballet dancer with the Saint Paul City Ballet Company. The company’s upcoming show “Reimaginings” will be showing at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis March 25-28.TMW: How did you first get into ballet?

SK: I was four and my mom said, “Hey do you want to sign up for ballet?” I agreed because my sister did it, and my mom always wanted to do it when she was little.

TMW: Did ballet at all influence your decision to come to Macalester?

SK: Long story. Last year I was auditioning for full time companies, so I wasn’t actually going to come to college. But with the economy being so bad there weren’t really any jobs, so I would go to auditions in Chicago and there would be over a hundred people there, but they ended up hiring nobody. It was impossible, especially being just seventeen. So, I applied to Macalester not really planning on coming, but I came anyway. Luckily I found a job here in ballet, so it was really fortunate.

TMW: Do you plan on studying dance here?

SK: No, definitely not. I’m actually thinking about Anthropology.

TMW: How did you come to dance professionally in the Twin Cities?

SK: Well, one of the reasons I came to Macalester was that I knew there was a studio near by that I could take classes at, and they so happened to have a company. So after a couple months of school here I went to take a ballet class and they were interested in me for their company. Then they offered me a job a couple weeks later. It was just kind of lucky.

TMW: What made you want to dance professionally?

SK: It was something I had always wanted to do, but I couldn’t get a job last year. It was always my plan. Instead of college I was going to dance full time.

TMW: Do you think you have a career in dance?

SK: No, I don’t think so. I wouldn’t want to do it full time. Also, you don’t get paid anything as a professional. It’s just a fun thing and I’m really fortunate to be able to do it professionally. Plus I’m here at Macalester paying tuition.

TMW: Is the Saint Paul City Ballet mostly traditional ballet, or do they do a lot of contemporary performance?

SK: In the show that we’re doing there’s a big classical piece from the ballet Raymonda. So that’s our really strict classical piece, then everything else is more neoclassical. It’s pretty normal in terms of dance, there’s no weird flailing on the floor or anything. Overall you could call it neoclassical.

TMW: Which style do you prefer?

SK: I really used to only do strict classical, so that’s where I’m most comfortable. But I like dancing weird too.

TMW: Do you do any other types of dancing besides ballet?

SK: I took modern dance here last semester, and I’ve taken a lot of modern in the past. I have also done jazz and tap, but mostly hated it. Oh, and I do break dancing now with the Macalester break dancing club!

TMW: How would you describe the difference between ballet and more modern forms of dance, from a dancer’s perspective?

SK: Oh my. Well, ballet is a lot more strict and technical. You have to be turned out all the time and point your feet. There are a lot more rules in ballet than in modern. There’s also a very strict set of turns and steps that you can do that are defined as ballet. Also, ballet is “en pointe” usually. It’s a lot more structured I guess. There’s very little freedom of movement-wise.

TMW: Even though it’s so strict, do still feel like you’re practicing an art form while you are performing?

SK: Yeah, it’s all about how you interpret it. You have to make it your own even though it’s one strict set of steps that you do. So yes, definitely.

TMW: Can you talk about your upcoming performance with the Saint Paul City Ballet?

SK: Our show is called Reimagining, and it’s at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis. There are seven of us in the company, so we’re all pretty much in everything. It’s going to be very exhausting. There are five pieces, and three of them are neoclassical, so they have classical music. One of them is a bit jazzier, and the music is from Miles Davis. Then the last one is strict classical ballet from Raymonda.

TMW: What is the typical dancer like in the ballet? Are they mostly doing it for a living?

SK: No actually. Two of them are graduate students from the University of Minnesota, and then the other four of them dance in this company along with other companies in the Twin Cities. They also teach. So they make a living off of dance somehow. They have to work a lot.

TMW: That sort of lifestyle doesn’t appeal to you?

SK: No. I mean, they love it and it’s awesome, but I would like to be more balanced in what I do. A lot of dancers are really obsessed with it, and just kill themselves working at it. It’s just something that I love to do and it’s really awesome that I get paid to do it.